A three-part series focusing on some of the female refiners and vendors who work in our industry
“I think it is fascinating, the different processes involved in transforming petroleum and how we can make the most of this raw material to generate fuels. Engineering is present almost every day in my activities, and this also motivates me.”
The world of refining has long been a man’s world, but that has slowly started changing. More and more women are entering the field, and with great fanfare.
“When I first started at RefComm 17 years ago, there were maybe three or four women in the entire conference. And that is the way it was for a long time, both on the refiner and vendor side. But the last few years have seen big changes and I am proud to say this past RefComm we had the largest turnout of women refiners that we’ve ever had in the history of hosting our flagship conference,” says Senior Events Manager, Marlea Stockenberg.
A whopping 57 women attended the 2023 event and of those, 24 were refiners. Women are now steadily filling the ranks of Process Engineers, Production Engineers, Turnaround Managers, Maintenance Crew, Directors, and more. We wanted to shine a light on this exciting transformation that has taken place– not only at our conference but also on a larger scale within the refining industry– by featuring a few women who roll up their sleeves and get down to work in the refinery trenches every day. This is the first in a series of profiles that will focus on women in our community.
Alessandra Mara de Bassi Fróes
Born and raised in Brazil, Alessandra has been a Chemical Engineer for almost 20 years. She works as a Process Engineer (Coker Consultant) at the Petrobras São José dos Campos Refinery (REVAP) in Sao Paulo State, where she lives with her daughter.
Her refining career has been focused primarily on the delayed coking process, including the participation in a new DCU project, its construction inspection, commissioning and start-up. Currently Alessandra provides technical support for the 10 DCUs at the Petrobras refinery, including troubleshooting, processing and reliability improvement, operators training, and turnarounds planning.
Almost from the beginning Alessandra has known that she wanted to work in the refining industry. Upon graduating college, she immediately started working on a new DCU project and since then, while her day-to-day responsibilities have changed over the years, they have always been connected to refining.
“I think it is fascinating, the different processes involved in transforming petroleum and how we can make the most of this raw material to generate fuels. Engineering is present almost every day in my activities, and this also motivates me,” she says.
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Alessandra has certainly faced her share of challenges in the workplace. “A woman in the refining industry, if compared to a man, always needs to expend extra efforts to prove their knowledge, to achieve higher positions in the company and, especially, to be respected by the Operation Team,” she says.
Alessandra is quick to praise Petrobras for being a leader in the oil and gas industry for empowering women and promoting gender equality, but she says that discrimination against women “is still a reality.”
Regarding her units at Petrobras, one of the greatest challenges Alessandra observes is adapting the equipment and systems to process ever increasing feed rates, and to refine oils with different characteristics than those that were used a few years ago. These different oil properties can have lasting impacts, not only on the characteristics of refinery final products, but also in equipment corrosion rates, hydrotreaters, catalyst change intervals, and so on. One of the biggest trends she sees happening right now is the replacement of energy sources (such as solar panels and bio-oils) and increased energy savings in refining processes.
Alessandra has attended RefComm events four times over her career, including once in 2021 as a presenter. When she’s not busy in the DCU or spending time with her family, she can be found scuba diving, belly dancing, and dabbling in photography. Connect with Alessandra on LinkedIn and stay tuned for our next installment of Women in Refining!