Praneeth Annam, Environmental Sustainability and LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) Consultant at DuPont working closely with innovators (scientists, technologists, and business leaders) in the mobility and materials business, with a focus on improving the products’ environmental footprint…
Q: What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional, and unique career?
I have an uncle who worked in a reputable oil company. He took me to an oil rig and showed me how oil is excavated from the earth. My uncle pointed at two gentlemen formals and mentioned that they were chemical engineers – aka masterminds behind the project. That field trip sparked my interest in chemical engineering. Initially, my exposure was inversely proportional to my interest in it. Without any hesitation, I was biased towards working for the oil industry. To my luck, I got to know that a PhD scholar was working on the synthesis of biodiesel from Algae. I worked with him for six months and learnt a lot about sustainable fuels. I was selected by a professor (who was the head of the chemical engineering dept. at Rutgers) in her research group to work on a project to manufacture plastics from cellulosic (wood) waste. This research was focused on providing a sustainable alternative to fossil derivatives. In collaboration with researchers at the University of Delaware, we developed an energy-efficient/green pathway to produce bio-plastics and bio-fuels using cellulosic waste (red oak) as a feedstock. One of the important tasks was to evaluate the environmental footprint of the chemical process that we were developing. This is the first time I was introduced to a new concept/tool called Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). Simply put, it is a science-based accounting tool that takes into account every activity in a process and evaluates the environmental impacts associated with it. As time progressed, my interest in this field grew and I ended up working on a thesis on this subject. Right now, I evaluate the environmental footprints of DuPont’s materials and operations, and develop strategies to reduce them.
Q: How does your work benefit society?
As the world continues to face the challenges of climate change, there is a need for greater urgency in adapting to a sustainable lifestyle. As a sustainability consultant/expert, I work to protect the planet by tackling climate change through science-based decisions.
Q: Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
There are several projects that are close to my heart like the development of medal podiums for Tokyo 2020 Olympics out of recycled ocean plastic, developing recycling processes for pizza boxes, cleaning wipes, and soap out of recycled post-industrial waste (confidential).
Q: Your advice to students based on your experience?
Explore different fields that you are interested in with an open mind. Try not to be influenced by others’ decisions. The Indian educational system focuses only on grades and does not provide enough exposure to different careers, so it is highly possible that one could be mistaken about a field. For example, a lot of my friends chose chemical engineering thinking it is chemistry when in reality it is not completely true. Do something that you love and are passionate about. Though It might not always be rewarding (materialistically) in the short term, if you put in good efforts, you will reach greater heights.
Q: Any future plans?
At present, I am enjoying what I am doing, so my plan for the near future is to continue growing in what I am doing bringing a positive change to the environment and making earth a better place to live. In the long term, I wish to start a school (till high school) and mentor kids to be successful not only in academics but also in moral education (gender equality, inclusivity, sustainability, etc.).