Brainstorm Green

How Dow plans to change humanity with fried chicken

April 19, 2012: 6:57 PM ET

Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris says his company is going to focus on products that will change the course of humanity: everything from better solar panels to oil that will let us deep-fry guilt-free.

FORTUNE -- Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris closed out Fortune's "Brainstorm Green" conference on April 18, telling the audience about how his company plans to make products that hit certain criteria, one of which is "to affect all humanity" in a positive way.

Then he began to talk about fried chicken.

Dow (DOW) is working on its consumer product business, according to Liveris, which includes a canola oil that is free of trans-fats. "This is a breakthrough product that could make Kentucky Fried Chicken good for you," Liveris said. And humanity rejoices.

The other whiz-bang inventions Liveris mentioned lean a little more towards the more expected green-tech, modern-miracle-of-manufacturing type of products.

For example, in several states, Dow is rolling out photovoltaic solar panels that appear much more like typical shingles than previous versions. The company is also training workers to roof houses with these new solar shingles. This April, Dow rolled out the technology in northern California, and it's already available in Colorado and Texas. When those panels are applied to houses that are sealed correctly, Liveris says, power collected from the sun can fuel the home's energy needs, effectively creating a zero-emission home.

Liveris also discussed his company's work in lightweight vehicles. Dow is pairing up with Ford (F) to make materials that should shed about 750 pounds from the weight of a car, allowing more fuel to go towards powering the wheels instead of lugging the vehicle's weight.

Liveris' list of neat inventions helped close Fortune's Brainstorm Green conference on a positive note, no simple feat. The conference has focused on several upsetting themes, such as the inevitability of climate change and the frustration with getting any policy through Congress, especially given the caution politicians tend to exercise during an election year.

In the face of all that, Liveris says, smart people at big companies are doing interesting things to promote sustainability.  "Over 7,000 Ph.Ds are employed at Dow," Liveris says, and they're apparently problem-solving like crazy. "When I visit those labs, my brain hurts -- as it should."

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Shelley DuBois
Shelley DuBois
Writer - Reporter, Fortune

Shelley DuBois writes on management issues for Fortune.com. Before joining Fortune, she was a producer for National Public Radio's Science Friday and worked for Wired. Shelley has a graduate degree in science, health and environmental reporting from New York University. She lives in Brooklyn.

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