On October 1, 1979, a 28-year-old chemist, recently graduated from Kingston Polytechnic, was quizzed by his new boss—the chief analyst at the Borax Consolidated Chessington laboratory in the south of London.
The skeptical analyst asked, “This is a borate ore. Do you know what the red part in the ore is?” He then explained to the new chemist that sample was a borate ore called colemanite, and the red indicated the presence of arsenic.
That was the beginning of Kee Lung’s career with U.S. Borax. Kee remembers that chief analyst as a mentor who helped him to master analytical skills. In his early days at the Chessington lab, Kee recalls sitting with the whole analytical team during coffee breaks, listening to stories of World War I from the chief analyst
Later, he was promoted by a reform-minded research director to lead the analytical laboratory and the technical service team.
Now, 41 years later, Kee is a mentor to the latest generation of U.S. Borax professionals, providing an inspiring role model.
Rigorous research and groundbreaking moments
“I was a nurse in a psychiatric hospital in the United Kingdom (UK) before I studied applied chemistry at Kingston University (formerly Kingston Polytechnic),” explains Kee. His background in nursing instilled a strong work ethic, and his knowledge of the application of analytical chemistry to borate products ensured he was ready for the rigors of his role as a research scientist for U.S. Borax’s UK lab.
It wasn’t long before his attention and desire to learn paid off. “I was identified as a person who was capable of leading the analytical team,” says Kee. Later in his tenure at the lab, he assumed the combined role of leading both the analytical and the technical service teams.
Kee remained with the lab for 18 years, during which time he participated in numerous significant research projects, always leveraging his ability to understand the practical significance of even minute research details.
Analysis of trace Cl in nuclear grade boric acid
Boric acid plays an important role in the safe operation of nuclear power
plants. Kee was involved in a laborious research process aimed at measuring trace amounts of chlorine (Cl) in U.S. Borax’s high purity boric acid. At the time, a novel technique called ion chromatography had just been invented by the renowned research scientist Hamish Small. Kee says, “We employed the new analysis technique to confirm that our high purity (HP) boric acid contained less than 0.4 ppm Cl—and met the specification required for use in nuclear reactors.” The team’s analysis enabled U.S. Borax to provide a nuclear grade boric acid to a chemical company that supplied the nuclear industry.
“I later met Dr. Hamish Small at a conference speech,” Kee remembers. “When he saw how we’d demonstrated the peak of Cl in the chromatogram, he said he got a lump in his throat. That specification is still valid today.”
Analysis of trace elements in company products
In the early days of borax mining and use, the purity of borates was rarely questioned, and raw mineral borates were widely used. However, throughout the 20th century, industrial formulations became increasingly sophisticated, requiring greater precision and purity from raw material inputs.
U.S. Borax has long been at the cutting edge of borate refinement, producing highly pure and consistent products. “During my time in the Chessington lab, our chief analyst foresaw that the purity profile of U.S. Borax products would provide a competitive advantage in the borate market,” says Kee. “To document our product quality, I developed methods for analyzing trace impurities. I also constructed a purity database comparing competitors’ products to those from U.S. Borax as a sales tool.”
n the mid-1990s, he was selected to lead the process of ISO 9001 certification for the analytical lab in Guildford, UK. However, before the certification was finalized, Kee was offered the opportunity to take his career in a new direction—on a different continent.
Knowledge and experience for the new century
By 1997, Asia had become an important strategic market for U.S. Borax. Kee and his family moved to Singapore so that he could serve as the regional technical service manager for the India and Asia-Pacific regions.
In this role, he established a robust technical service center in Singapore for U.S. Borax’s Asian customers. He also provided concept and design input for our Asia Technical Center in Suzhou, China. Moving technical service activities from the UK to Asia has provided enhanced value to those customers, who benefit from having a local expert who can cross language and cultural barriers to provide trustworthy, research-based information.
Kee partnered with the U.S. Borax technical service team to replace colemanite with our boric acid in textile fiber glass plants in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. “Our selling points are our superior product purity and consistent quality. The result for our customers is less fiber breakage, which saves them money and results in a better product,” says Kee.
The team also supported Chinese manufacturers of borosilicate glass and insulation fiberglass in a switch from using a local borate material to 20 Mule Team®
. The manufacturers were impressed by the product’s consistency, superior quality, and low risk of caking. “They also benefit from our reliable supply chain,” says Kee. “And, with a better-quality borate, their productivity improved and they experienced energy savings.”
Kee has also assisted his U.S. Borax agriculture colleagues by helping to convince the Malaysian Standards Association to adopt referee titration
as a valid method for determining %B in borates used in fertilizers.
“One of my favorite successes happened when I performed an analysis of a competitor’s product and found it was mixed with salt,” says Kee. “When I reported my findings to the customer’s general manager, his jaw dropped. By demonstrating our technical service capability, we successfully convinced that customer to switch to our product.
Currently, Kee is working to promote the value of Dehybor
in enamel frit, insulation fiberglass, and fine glass fiber manufacturing. He emphasizes the significance of benefits such as increased productivity, reduction in atmospheric emissions, energy savings, and improved end-product quality. In 2022, he will present a paper on improving enamel adhesion with Dehybor
at an enamel conference in Tokyo.
From student to mentor
Kee has seen historic changes across U.S. Borax. He’s seen the world change from the time of orders placed through telex machines to the era of Zoom meetings. And, he’s seen a whole new generation of passionate researchers and colleagues join the company.
As part of the formal onboarding and training team, Kee leads instruction for:
- Internal team members: Kee gives an orientation course that provides foundational knowledge about production, products, and competitive products. He explains how borates are incorporated in various applications and end-use products. And, he helps team members understand how their role relates to our products, customers, and distributors.
- New sales colleagues and new distributor partners: Kee extends his course for sales team members to help them understand how to compare competitive products, leverage the strengths of U.S. Borax, and understand industrial trends globally and locally.
- New technical members: For technical team members, Kee adds to course instruction by striving to set an example, coaching, and helping them prepare to serve customers across regions.
“I’m proud to be called ‘the best teacher’ by management and my colleagues,” he says.
Rewards of a rich career
What has kept Kee Lung at U.S. Borax for 41 years?
“I’m proud, positive, and confident about this company,” he says. “My two children have grown up in the environment of U.S. Borax in the UK and Singapore. My wife and children are very proud of what I have done over the years.”
And, Kee is not done yet. He continues to actively engage with boron application technology and industrial trends, and he maintains positive, active relationships with distributors and industrial associations.
“My approach is based on respect,” he says. “I try to always be respectful to distributors and customers alike—and to make my colleagues proud of me and the company I represent.”