General Electric Co.’s sale of its plastics and silicone divisions last week caught up with its local research and development arm, which laid off 20 workers.
GE Global Research is scaling back its organic and polymer chemical research operations, which played a larger role in the conglomerate prior to its sale of GE Plastics in 2007 and GE Silicone a year earlier. Those divested operations had plastics-related facilities in the Capital Region and western Massachusetts that often collaborated with scientists at GE’s sprawling Niskayuna research and development campus.
“We have to scale to what we need in this research skill set,” said GE Global Research spokesman Todd Alhart.
Last week’s cuts represent 1 percent of GE Global Research’s 1,900-plus work force in Niskayuna. The layoffs are just one of the changes the research and development lab has pursued since GE sold GE Plastics’ plants in Selkirk and Pittsfield, Mass., to Saudi Arabia’s Sabic Basic Industries Corp. A year earlier, Apollo Management, an equity investment firm, acquired GE Silicone’s Waterford plant that now operates as Momentive Performance Materials.
One research and development project in Niskayuna that has survived the sale of GE Plastics is the examination of the “lotus effect.” Around 2004, Niskayuna scientists began studying ways to replicate in plastics the water-resistant qualities of lotus plants.
Using nanotechnology, GE scientists managed to achieve that goal, but they could not make the super hydrophobic plastic materials durable enough for commercial use.
After the sale of GE Plastics, Niskayuna scientists started applying the lotus effect research to metals with the intent of reducing ice formation on GE-made wind turbines, jet engine fan blades and medical equipment.
Alhart said polymer and organic chemistry scientists remain active in the lotus effect research, which is “critical to GE.”