The two women representing Compact Membrane Systems became accustomed to being treated differently than their male counterparts.
CEO Erica Nemser and Christine Parrish, the business development lead, were asked “a lot of basic, stupid questions, because the assumption of what you know is zero” when they first started making calls together, Parrish said.
It was incredibly insulting for Nemser and frustrating for them both.
“You only have 30 minutes of useful time because they spent the first 30 minutes pressure testing to see whether or not you were dumb,” she said.
That’s changed in the last five years.
“There’s a lot more respect because the industry is changing,” Parrish said. “It doesn’t look the way it did 10 years ago and you’re starting to see a difference.”
Compact Membrane Systems was one of two women-led businesses that Gov. John Carney visited Thursday to highlight women’s business during Women’s History Month.
The other was JennyGems in Georgetown.
At Compact Membrane, the governor gave the company a proclamation honoring them for their leadership in carbon capture technology.
Nemser was unable to attend, but Parrish and Ken Loprete, the vice president of product development, greeted Carney and gave him a tour of the company lab where products are made.
The company is developing three different forms of membranes.
One is a carbon capture that separates the carbon dioxide from nitrogen, which helps reduce carbon’s impact on climate change.
The company also is working on olefin-paraffin separation as well as produce preservation.
Carney expressed particular interest in the food conservation aspect and noted that companies importing bananas through the port of Wilmington would be able to save money on refrigeration costs.
Olefin, a hydrogen and carbon compound, is one of the building blocks for plastics. Paraffin, a waxy substance, is used in jet and diesel fuel. They have similar chemical properties.
Compact Membranes’ separation process also helps make the production process use less energy and produce less pollution, Parrish said.
Loprete said that none of their current research projects are commercially viable yet, but that the olefin and paraffin separation project is the closest.
They have already done a smaller test with that system, but they are in talks with the company Braskem, a Brazilian petrochemical company, to install the olefin paraffin separation by 2025 and hope for more contracts down the line.
Loprete said that the olefin and paraffin separation is about a seven out of 10 in terms of commercial viability, while the carbon capture and produce preservation are at a five.
While Compact Membranes is continuing research on those projects, it’s making about 1,000 membranes that are thin layers of polymer material and are used in the oil business as well as Compact’s own research.
The company also has a security sensor business that has nothing to do with membranes.
Company reps declined to discuss finances but said that in addition to revenue from those projects, Compact Membrane has a variety of grants, including one from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Company Membrane Systems now has 20 employees. Parrish said they’re looking to add another 12 within the next 14 months and will likely need to expand to another building.
The industry is starting to recognize that workers are seeking a different environment, Parrish said.
“And I actually think that’s why we’ve had so much success hiring and keeping people at CMS,” she said. “Erica doesn’t do the old corporate culture. She does what suits her, and it’s been really beneficial for us.”
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