Meet the Team

Last year, Brookes Bell opened its 8,000sq ft laboratory facility in Bidston, Wirral Nr Liverpool.  The brand new site contains advanced testing and inspection facilities, a modern laboratory, engineering workshop space, flexible training facilities and offices.  This month we get to know Bronwen Carey, GCMS Specialist who joined Brookes Bell in September last year as part of the specialist fuel testing team.

When I joined Brookes Bell, the UK was still in lockdown and I worked from home for the first two months.  Then we began to visit the new laboratory, it was all hard hats and hi-vis at first and very much a building site.  It’s been great to see the progression and development and be there from the very beginning, it’s our real baby. 

Not only did we influence the layout and positioning of everything - the validation of the equipment then followed and the building of a quality system, all from nothing.  It’s been a huge task, but an invaluable experience to have the chance to build it from scratch and a rare opportunity!

Before joining Brookes Bell, I worked for one of our competitors as an analyst across four laboratories, a fuel, environmental, instrumentation and DNA lab. This gave me a huge range of experience across different techniques and types of instrumentation, which comes in very handy for investigative work on the range of cases that we see. As well as conducting the investigative work, routine analysis and witnessed joint analyses, I developed methods for research projects including DNA tagging for traceability of oil spills.

I had a very good chemistry teacher at school and love the practical side of it, I do believe that chemistry is the pillar of all the sciences, answering all the ‘whys’ and explaining the real nitty gritty of the world’s processes. After my first degree, I did a Masters in Chemistry with a year out in industry and after that I was headhunted to do a research Masters for GlaxoSmithKline.  I was looking at different 2D-NMR techniques, splitting up complex mixtures into their individual components and analysing the chemical interactions of compounds.

After that, I moved to Spain for a year, near Malaga.  I went with just a plane ticket, no job or place to stay, but once I was there, I loved it and learnt Spanish, found a job in a busy restaurant and became the maître d’.  Then I decided to visit my Dad in Vietnam and found I didn’t want to go home, so I ended up in Singapore working in a bar for another six months. It was just a good time to be travelling and I loved the freedom, but eventually I decided that I’d better ‘get a proper job’ and it was time to come home.

Day to day, I work with Jenny Davies, technical lead, and Kaitn Walker our fuel technician in the lab.  Jenny comes from an environmental science background and Katy has a degree in forensic chemistry, so combined we’re a really good mix, together we have a very broad range of knowledge and experience.

On the physical testing side of things, we are set up to focus on marine fuels to ISO 8217 standards, but the equipment we have gives us the scope to test other fuels too, as there is often a crossover between tests.

The GCMS (gas chromatography–mass spectrometry) is set up with a pyrolyser and headspace, so while we can analyse liquids directly, we can also do volatiles and solids, separating them into individual compounds. Our FTIR (fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy) works nicely in conjunction with this, looking at the functionality of liquids and solids.  We also have an ICP-OES (inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry) which is for elemental analysis, for example revealing the presence of any harmful heavy metals.

Currently the main body of our work is testing for disputes, usually witnessed by representatives of opposing parties for cases that may even end up at arbitration.  The most common thing we’re seeing at the moment is sludging from the new Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oils (VLSFO) which damages the purifiers of ships. 

The lower viscosity of the fuel means that ships handle it differently to the old heavy fuel oil, with many problems stemming from new blending products being used.  The whole industry is to a certain extent learning as we identify what might have been added to the fuel and the implications.  We’re constantly developing our methods and knowledge to ensure that we’re leading the way with fuel based forensic investigations.  We’ve also been working on a number of cargo disputes, looking at damages and contaminations.

Jenny, Katy and I have extensive combined experience, which together with the analytical instrumentation gives us the scope to offer testing and R&D across a range of other industries. Looking to the future we are keen to expand our scope and develop new services, as we really can do so much more.

When I’m not at work, I’m a keen rider - I’ve competed for many years in British eventing most recently on a feisty little Irish cob, Mrs Jones, but she’s retired now, and lives on my Mother’s farm and just goes back and forth to the pub, she loves a pint or two.  My partner is into downhill mountain biking, so I’ve taken that up instead. He’s based in Scotland so we spend a lot of time there or in North Wales on the bikes.  When life gets a little more ‘normal’ after covid, I’m really looking forward to travelling again, first on the list will be trips to visit my Dad in Vietnam – not least for the delicious Vietnamese food, and to see my brother where he lives, in Dubai.

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