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Women in Refining Series: Angie Slavens

“Angie’s direct contributions to the execution of major sulfur projects have resulted in the creation of facilities that today have the capability of delivering approximately a quarter of the world’s sulfur supply.”

For a long time Angie Slavens has been— and remains–  one of the most influential people in the sulfur sphere.

Angie Slavens

As founder and Managing Director of UniverSUL Consulting, a technology-neutral, techno-economic consulting firm based in Abu Dhabi, Angie is responsible for facilitating improved communication and the transfer of information between sulfur plant owners and contractors. 

After 27 years working in the industry, Angie has become adept at identifying missed opportunities in many of the plant configurations around the world. 

“While technically sound and capable of meeting product and emissions specifications, they are not always the most economically attractive,” she says. In most of these cases, owners are not even aware of the lost opportunity costs. 

So she founded UniverSUL to bridge that gap. Her company specializes in comprehensive techno-commercial comparisons between sour gas and sulfur technologies, while also remaining technology-neutral. Because UniverSUL does not sell technology, there is no incentive to recommend one process over another unless it provides true technical or commercial advantages.  Her work leads to greater techno-commercial success for all parties involved in the delivery of complex sour oil and gas projects.

Angie has operated her company from the Kansas City area since moving back to the States from Abu Dhabi in 2020. Prior to that, she has lived abroad for much of her career, including stints in the United Kingdom and UAE.

After graduating from the University of Kansas in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, Angie started her career at Black & Veatch Pritchard. She worked there for 15 years, gravitating toward sulfur technology because the company was one of the leading technology licensors in the world in this field. 

 “I suspected that working in this area would allow me the opportunity to work on world-class projects all over the world, which was a highly attractive proposition as a young engineer,” she says. That suspicion proved fruitful and now Angie has worked in more than 30 countries in almost as many years, including  a stint as VP and Sulphur Technology Director at WorleyParsons. 

Her love of sulfur is elemental

What Angie loves most about the sulfur industry is that it is so much more than just a byproduct of oil and gas production.  

“Elemental sulfur is the raw feedstock used to produce the world’s most widely used chemical – sulfuric acid,” she says.  Most sulfuric acid is used in the production of phosphate fertilizers, which directly links it to the global food supply chain.  So while many oil and gas producers view sulfur as a costly consequence or by-product, she says, “it actually has a very robust and important supply chain of its own.”

Coming down the pipeline

Angie observes many trends emerging in the sulfur industry. Over the past several decades, governments worldwide have adopted increasingly strict clean air regulations on sulfur emissions from processing facilities, with a current industry benchmark of approximately 99.9% minimum recovery efficiency.  However, this figure is on the rise with a greater number of facilities designing for higher sulfur removal rates, as evidenced by the World Bank Standard SO2 emission specification, which currently sits at 150 mg/Nm3 (equivalent to approximately 99.98% recovery efficiency).  

“While striving for increasingly lower sulfur emissions may be beneficial, it does not come free of cost,” she says.  As sulfur recovery efficiency increases, the energy required to remove each additional kilogram of sulfur escalates.  As energy consumption increases, so too do CO2 emissions, which is an undesirable outcome in a time when carbon emissions reduction is among the top objectives for corporate environmental management programs.  Not only is the environmental impact of greenhouse gas familiar and visible to the public, it also carries a high potential for future regulation. 

Angie’s love of sulfur takes into account the challenges the industry faces, which includes price volatility. “The world’s sulfur supply is primarily determined by involuntary production of elemental sulfur during the processing of oil and gas as we endeavor to meet the world’s growing energy needs,” she says, “while continually reducing SOx emissions to the atmosphere.”  

As a result, sulphur supply is decoupled from demand, resulting in an imbalance between the two.  Over the past several decades, sulfur supply has generally exceeded demand, with the exception of a few brief periods during which supply and demand were nearly balanced, or there was a slight deficit.  Without a means to regulate supply to meet demand, pricing could become unstable.  

In addition to the value of the sulfur product itself, Angie likes to tout that the sulfur recovery plant is a net energy exporter, providing a frequently overlooked benefit for the energy balance of the processing complex.  This is because the Claus reaction, which is employed to convert H2S to elemental sulfur, is exothermic, and the waste heat from the process can be recovered as HP and LP steam.  HP steam is often used for power generation and LP steam is used in various processing units throughout the facility.  

Finding strength in challenges

As a woman in a male-dominated field, Angie has found that it can be a challenge to be different, but she is quick to point out that it can also be an advantage.  “I have always focused on demonstrating my unique talents and allowing the results to speak for themselves,” she says. “Yes, I have experienced some gender bias over the years but it has only made me work harder, which is something I am actually grateful for.” 

The product of all that hard work is easy to see in the prolific output of Angie’s nearly three-decade career. Over the years she has published more than 50 industry presentations and articles, many of which have provided a broad strokes perspective and sparked critical industry dialogue.  Some examples include shedding light on the true value of sulfur to the fertilizer and manufacturing sectors, and the potential for future undersupply due to the rise of renewable energy sources. Her writing has also shaped industry conversations around balancing CO2 footprint versus SO2 emissions to avoid diminishing returns in achieving ultra-high recovery efficiency in tail gas treating.  

Under her leadership, UniverSUL Consulting initiated the Middle East Sulfur Plant Operations Network (MESPON) Forum in 2014.  What began as a platform for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing amongst ADNOC operating facilities blossomed into one of the world’s largest international sulphur conferences, at times attracting more than 500 delegates.  

In collaboration with CRU Group, MESPON evolved into MEScon (Middle East Sulfur Conference). “MEScon has become the forum for the most important conversations shaping the future of the industry,” she says, “with a commitment to creating and maintaining a bridge between the collaborative spirit of the historical Western sulfur community and the burgeoning sulfur landscape of the Middle East.”  

She has served on the Board of Directors for ASRL (Alberta Sulphur Research Ltd.) and is a a member of the Executive Committees for MEScon and the Sulphur + Sulphuric Acid Conference, where she is responsible for curating the content of both events, with input from contributors around the globe.

Angie was honored by the Mr./Ms. Sulfur Club last month for her contributions to the sulfur/amine process industry. And in November she will spearhead another Sulphur + Sulphuric Acid Conference, this time in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

Angie Slavens Ms. Sulfur 2023

One would wonder how Angie has time for anything else, and yet she is an avid long distance runner. She has completed 14 marathons, including all of the Abbot World Majors, and she plans to add one more race to that list later on this month.

Connect with Angie on LinkedIn and be sure to seek her out next month at the Sulphur + Sulphuric Acid Conference

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