John Morelly Solbett: 1978—1979

John Morelly Solbett: 1978—1979

Born in Bucharest in 1919, John Solbett spent his school days in Romania before coming to England in 1931 to read chemical engineering at the City & Guilds College of Imperial College London, graduating in 1941. As one of the earliest chemical engineers to be trained on a formal undergraduate course in Britain, he has been involved in a number of ways in the introduction of chemical engineering in industry.

His first experience in industry was with British Industrial Solvents Ltd which at the time was part of the Distillers Company. He was based at the company's Carshalton works where they made a wide range of solvents and plasticisers in relatively small quantities under the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. He started on plant operation as what was then known as a shift chemist and later went on to become the first Works Chemical Engineer to be employed at the site in that specific function.

In 1945 he joined the Chemical Plant Development Department of Simon-Carves and it was there that he gained his first experience of plant design and the many other aspects of contracting. He became an all-round sulphuric acid specialist, being one of the first people to develop a flowsheet incorporating SO3 removal from the main process gas stream before the final stages of catalytic conversion. He coined a name for the process although during his days with the company he never saw the process commercialised as it was a decade or so before the introduction of processes of this type, first in Germany, and then elsewhere.

He moved to Humphreys & Glasgow Ltd in 1956 and established a Process Department fully conversant with the then emerging chemical engineering procedures and had the responsibility of selecting new staff to form the company's Process Design team.

In 1966 John Solbett left Humphreys & Glasgow to establish a subsidiary of the French contracting company Heurtey in London to develop a British-based side of its furnace design and construction business. And it was as Managing Director of Heurtey Ltd that he first came into contact with the iron and steel industry. He returned to Humphreys & Glasgow in 1973 as European Sales Director before taking on the role of Director for development activities and consultancy.

Since being elected as a Fellow in 1955, John Solbett has supported the Institution's work on a number of standing committees, on Council from 1964-1967, as Chairman of the Membership Committee from 1976-1977 and, prior to taking on the Presidency, as Joint Honorary Secretary. 

His involvement in contracting throughout his career led to him becoming Chairman of the Safety Committee of the British Chemical Engineering Contractors Association. His wish to see Institution members led to an increased awareness of the characteristics of the contracting industry has been evidenced by his involvement in the production of IChemE's Green & Red Books of Contract Conditions. In 1968 he was awarded the Council Medal for his work as Chairman of the sub-committee of the Engineering Practice Committee which produced the "Model Conditions of Contract for Process Plant".

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