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The Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering

Leader in Clean Technology Research: Voiland Clean Energy Research Ranks 10th in the Nation

Su Ha
Su Ha’s lab is creating and testing nanoparticles catalysts to more efficiently use transportation fuels.
[Photo by Geoff Crimmons, courtesy of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News]

The Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering was recently featured on the front page of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News for its 10th place ranking among the top clean-technology universities in the nation by Shawn Lesser of Sustainable World Capital.

Read the full article about WSU’s active clean technology research at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

First Voiland Distinguished Professor Brings Leadership in Energy Research to WSU

Yong Wang
Yong Wang
PULLMAN, Wash. – Yong Wang, an internationally known researcher in the area of energy and renewable fuels, will join the Washington State University faculty as the first Voiland Distinguished Professor.

Last year Gene and Linda Voiland donated an unprecedented $17.5 million to the School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering. The gift allows for the school to advance research and scholarship and to hire faculty in the area of new energy conversion technology.

Wang, who received his master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from Washington State University in 1992 and 1993, is a leading researcher in the area of catalysis and biorenewable energy, where his prolific work has had a significant impact on improving energy efficiency, particularly in the chemical and fuels industries.

Improving the efficiency of catalysts, which are used in many industries to chemically transform and create products and fuel, is an important factor in increasing supplies, reducing costs and improving environmental impacts of petroleum-based and alternative fuels. Wang’s work spans from fundamental to applied research in clean energy conversion including fundamental studies of structure and function relationships of transition metal oxide and bimetallic catalysts, development of novel catalytic materials, and innovative work in reaction engineering to improve the conversion of biomass and hydrocarbons to fuels and chemicals. He also developed novel and durable materials for fuel cell applications.

“Dr. Wang’s innovative research has had a direct and significant impact on lowering costs and increasing efficiency in the chemical and energy industries,” said Gene Voiland, (BS Chem E, ‘69). “We are all pleased that he is returning to WSU. He will dramatically advance chemical engineering’s and WSU’s leadership in the development of new catalysts for transformational energy systems while he also participates in the education of the next generation of engineers and leaders.”

Wang joined Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in 1994 as a postdoctoral fellow. He became a research engineer in 1996, and by 2005 became a laboratory fellow- the highest scientific rank at PNNL. He established and managed a team of researchers focused on catalysis & reaction engineering from 2000 to 2007. In 2008, Wang became the associate director of the Institute for Interfacial Catalysis at PNNL. The institute works to develop and improve new catalysts to increase energy efficiency in a number of areas, such as the conversion of biomass to fuel.

He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2008 for his groundbreaking contributions to the fields of chemical reaction engineering and catalysis innovations. The Chinese Institute of Engineers also named him the 2006 Asian American Engineer of the Year. He is the recipient of three prestigious R&D 100 awards, which annually recognize the 100 most significant and innovative technologies that have been introduced in the marketplace. He is recipient of the Presidential Green Chemistry Award and was twice named PNNL Inventor of the Year. He was honored as a Battelle Distinguished Inventor and is also a first-time recipient of PNNL Laboratory Director’s Award for Exceptional Scientific Achievement.

“It’s always exciting when we bring a researcher of Yong Wang’s caliber to Washington State University,” said Provost Warwick Bayly. “Wang has demonstrated outstanding ability to develop innovative technologies in the field of catalysis and reaction engineering. His appointment has already attracted interest in WSU from other leading researchers, and developing a strong research program in the Voiland School will advance our reputation, educate undergraduate and graduate students, and better serve the state and nation. This is exactly the type of impact envisioned by Gene and Linda Voiland when they made their generous gift.”

Wang has been honored as guest professor in many renowned universities and institutes such as the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics. He currently serves on the editorial board of Catalysis Today and Journal of Nanomaterials. He also served as the Program Committee Chair of the ACS (American Chemical Society) Petroleum Division (2006-2008). He has organized numerous international and national conferences and has more than 130 peer reviewed publications, more than 60 invited presentations over the past five years, more than 100 issued patents, and six edited books and topic journals issued on novel materials and reaction engineering for fossil and biomass conversions.

“Research to develop clean technologies and to address the daunting and exciting energy challenges of the 21st century is a top priority in the College of Engineering and Architecture,” said Candis Claiborn, dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture. “Yong Wang has been recognized as an outstanding leader and cutting-edge innovator in this important research area, and I think he really exemplifies exactly where we want to head into the future.”

In recognition that the work he conducts will also have dramatic positive impacts on Washington’s agricultural industry, a portion of Wang’s appointment is also funded by WSU’s Agricultural Research Center, the state’s agricultural experiment station.

“Our continued relationship with Yong will enable PNNL and WSU to work more closely together in the critical area of catalysis directed at increasing US energy supply and reducing green-house gas emissions,” said Ed Baker, director of the Energy and Efficiency Division at PNNL.

“Yong Wang brings expertise to WSU in the research areas of catalysts, biorenewables, and energy that I believe will positively impact the agricultural industry with its role in the production of biofuels and bioproducts and, consequently, the economy of Washington State,” said Ralph Cavalieri, associate dean and director of the Agricultural Research Center. “I look forward to seeing many of the innovations that come out of Dr. Wang’s research program as they help to cement Washington State’s position at the forefront in the alternative energy economy.”

Kelsey Whittaker participating in a Research Project

BELLEVUE REPORTER — Kelsey Whittaker of Bellevue is participating in Research Experience for Undergraduates, a summer program at Milwaukee School of Engineering.

As part of the program, students researched projects advancing state-of-the-art applications in the biomedical, aerospace, architectural, manufacturing, composite, biomolecular and electro-optical industries. Whittaker, a chemical engineering student at Washington State University, is working on a research project titled “Compatibility of Hydraulic Fluids.”

Gene Becker Receives Alumni Award

Dr. and Mrs. Gene Becker
Dr. and Mrs. Gene Becker

Eugene Becker, CEO of Global Sulfur Systems, Inc., received the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering alumni award at Washington State University on April 22 in recognition of his service to the industry and the school.

“I’m stunned that I received this award,” said Becker. “It really touched me.”

Becker graduated from Washington State University with a BS in chemical engineering in February of 1956 and immediately went to work for Bechtel, Corp. in San Francisco as a process design engineer. Over the course of the next 33 years, Becker held numerous positions in the petroleum design and environment industries. In 1989, he and five fellow investors formed what is now Global Sulfur Systems in Pasadena, Calif. with the primary goal to commercialize the British Gas, plc Stretford Desalting Process to address some of the environmental impacts associated with oil refining.

Over the past 20 years, the company has treated almost 28 million gallons with the Desalting Process. Treatment can be performed as a once through treatment, typically during a plant shutdown, or on a slipstream during plant operation. Slipstream processing eliminates the need to shutdown and empty an operating plant. Global Sulfur Systems has also developed a system for the filtration of sulfur sludge generated in the Stretford process, which eliminates the need for melting the sulfur sludge which can cause other operating and environmental problems.

“Gene has had a wide variety of experience in the industry and is recognized for his experience in sulfur recovery. He’s solved many, many vexing problems over the years,” said Gene Voiland, a longtime advisory board member and supporter of the school. “Plus, he’s a very good, nice guy!”

One of Becker’s crowning achievements has been his work as the lead process design engineer in developing the Beavon Process, the first sulfur recovery process for treating tail gas. The process was developed jointly by Parsons and Unocal in 1971 in response to Rule 66, passed in 1966 by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), then known as Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District (LAAPCD), which limited sulfur emissions to a maximum of 500 ppmv.

The rule and the implementation of controls for sulfur emissions were critical, especially to residents in the LA basin who suffered stinging eyes and throats due to the high sulfur levels in the area. The adoption of the rule and subsequent implementation of the Beavon Process ultimately eliminated over 100 tons per day of sulfur going into the atmosphere.

The Beavon Process consisted of hydro treating the Sulfur Recovery Unit (SRU) tail gas to convert all of the sulfur species back to hydrogen sulfide, followed by recovery of the Hydrogen sulfide (H2S), either as a solid sulfur as in the Stretford process or an amine system and recycle H2S to the front of the SRU. When the plant started up in August, 1973, it was extremely successful; emissions were consistently less than 50 ppm and the plant received world wide interest with many engineers visiting to see it in operation.

“Gene is a hands-on, practical engineer who epitomized the best characteristics of an education in the Voiland School,” said School Director Dr. James Petersen. “He has made a career of devising innovative designs that maximize production and minimize the environmental impacts of petroleum processing. We are pleased to count him among our most distinguished graduates.”

Recipients of the Voiland School alumni award are selected by the school advisory board in tandem with the director and faculty. The award is based on accomplishments that illustrate the impact of the education received at WSU in either Chemical Engineering or Bioengineering. To date, only eight other individuals have received this award. Mr. Becker will join the ranks of alumni like O.H Reaugh (‘33), Gene Voiland (‘69), Tim Clossey (‘80), Tom Gradel (‘60), Paul Hohenschuh (BS ‘64, MS ‘70), Jim Lafferty (‘44), Brion Wise (‘68) and Yong Wang (PhD ‘93).

Isabela Reiniati Receives Best Poster Award

Isabela Reiniati, a graduate student in chemical engineering working with civil engineering professor Marie Laborie, received the best poster award at the Ecowood 2008 conference, held in Portugal this fall.

Reiniati’s poster, entitled Viscoelastic Properties of Hybrid Poplar, describes her research on the effect of hot-pressing on the structural, chemical and viscoelastic properties of the hybrid poplar. Hybrid poplar trees are a fast-growing plantation species and have been used for decades to supply the pulp and paper industries. Recently, they are being considered as a possible alternative for wood-based composite manufacturing. Fundamental knowledge of how the wood behaves after hot-pressing, which is an important step in the wood-composite manufacturing process, is important for future development of composites.

Reiniati, a native of Indonesia, came to the U.S. to attend college, first in California and then at Washington State University. She received her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering in May, 2007, and is now pursuing a master’s degree. She conducts her research at the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory. She plans to graduate in the spring and hopes to work as a process engineer.

Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering School Named in Honor of Gene and Linda Voiland

The naming of the school honors the Voilands for a $17.5 million commitment to the School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, as well as their long-time support of the College of Engineering and Architecture and Washington State University.

“We are so thankful to Gene and Linda Voiland for their generous gift,” said WSU President Elson S. Floyd. “It demonstrates their deep commitment to the success of Washington State University. The naming of the school in their honor brings considerable prestige to WSU while also providing lasting recognition of the Voiland’s support for our University. They are truly making a difference in the lives of many future students and helping us achieve our goal to become an outstanding land-grant research university.”

Gene Voiland received a BS in chemical engineering from WSU in 1969. He worked for Shell Oil Company for nearly 30 years in a variety of positions. There, he met his wife, Linda, a graduate of the University of Houston. He later became President and CEO of CalResources LLC and Aera Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil. He retired in 2007.

The Voilands have been active supporters of WSU for many years. Gene led the Investment Committee for the WSU Foundation and is a member of the Foundation’s Boards of Governors. He also serves on advisory boards for both the College of Engineering and Architecture and the School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering. He received the Chemical Engineering Alumni Achievement Award in 1991, the WSU Alumni Achievement Award in 1999, and the WSU Foundation Outstanding Service Award in 2000.

“We greatly value the education I received at WSU and believe it laid the foundation for our success,” said Gene Voiland. “We hope this gift will continue the long history of success in the chemical engineering program and build a strong future for the school.”

The commitment from the Voilands will specifically provide support for the school and for the College of Engineering and Architecture as they seek to address the great 21st century challenge of meeting a sustainable energy future, said Candis Claiborn, dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture. The nation faces some of the most difficult challenges of our lifetimes. Technologies that have fueled our lifestyle are not going to suffice in the future. Dramatic innovation to create a sustainable future is essential.

“The Voilands believe that WSU can be leaders in the development of creative solutions to the nation’s energy challenges through the sound application of chemical engineering principles,” said Claiborn. “Through their generous gift, they are helping us to meet that important challenge.”

Support from the Voilands will enable the hiring of faculty who will conduct research in catalytic systems for renewable fuels and sustainable energy.

“The support of the Voilands will help to advance research and scholarship in the School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering and enables us to bring in new faculty who are leaders in this field,” said School Director James Petersen. “With the support of the Voilands, we are excited to grow the reputation of the school and have our students taught by the very best in the field.”

Professor’s Fulbright Grant Brings Technology into the Classroom

Educators have known for years about the benefits of using cooperative, hands-on, active or problem-based learning approaches. But in college, especially in engineering and the sciences, lecturing remains the most common teaching format.

With a Fulbright Scholar grant, Professor Bernard Van Wie bucked that trend, having spent the 2007-2008 academic year teaching students using a unique, one cubic-foot Desktop Learning Module (DLM) at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. The DLMs make it easy for educators to use the more modern and better pedagogical approaches that include Cooperative, Hands-on, Active and Problem-based learning – in short Van Wie’s group calls this approach CHAPL.

In addition to lecturing and conducting research in developing biosensors for measuring toxic compounds in common Nigerian food products made from cassava , Van Wie employed the DLM and CHAPL pedagogy he is developing under a National Science Foundation grant to improve engineering education. The DLMs accept plug in cartridges useful for learning principles in chemical, mechanical, civil and bioengineering.

Now with an additional $2.9 million grant from the World Bank, Van Wie, his Washington State University team and fellow researchers from Nigeria will produce roughly 400 desktop learning modules for use throughout Nigeria. Seven other research institutions in the U.S. are also collaborating on the project so the group will be able to contrast and compare how the approach benefits learning in a developing nation versus that in a well developed country.

Van Wie’s research proposal rated No. 1 in Nigeria for the World Bank competition and he will begin Phase I of the funding this year with an initial sum of $500,000. The researchers expect to receive the remaining $2.4 million upon reaching pre-set benchmark goals.

“I really believe in implementing modern teaching pedagogies into the engineering classroom as it helps students understand the material far better than they would from a traditional lecture format,” said Van Wie. “We want to be able to supply this equipment in an easy-to-use and affordable format.”

The DLM, originally developed with the assistance of Paul Golter, the Chemical Engineering Instructional Supervisor, and Gary Held, an engineering technician with the College of Engineering and Architecture shops, will be reformatted for mass production by Infinetix Corp. in Spokane and will be assembled in Kaduna, Nigeria by Major Academy Ltd. for use in classrooms in all six of Nigeria’s geopolitical regions. Of major importance is that experienced educational researchers are involved in assessing the impact that the DLM and CHAPL have on learning progress. Key players are Gary Brown, Director of the Washington State University Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology, and Ray Bako, a Senior Lecturer from Ahmadu Bello University.

Van Wie’s desktop modules allow students to match the math they are learning with what is actually happening physically. For instance, to understand the concept of heat transfer they will have in front of them a small working heat exchanger with temperature indicators at different spots. Equations explaining heat transfer concepts are written by the students on a nearby tablet of paper. Students can plug numbers into the equation for the surface area, liquid temperatures, and heat transfer coefficients, but these numbers can only be determined by close inspection and analysis of the physical system in front of them. Instead of memorizing the equation, the students are learning the physical and phenomenological meaning behind the terms that make up the equation.

Furthermore, because this hands-on apparatus also contains valves and flow measuring equipment, running conditions can be changed and observed, and temperature changes can be compared with what the equations predict.

“The DLM is interesting in that it provides a compact, modular system for the demonstration of basic principles of heat transfer, fluid mechanics, etc. and new experiments can be created and added easily,” said Infinetix CEO and President Bruce Weyrauch. “It is also interesting that the system uses a simple fluid system that doesn’t need pressurized liquid, or a lot of electrical power.”

To ensure a smooth transition from assembly to teaching, lecturers and PhD graduate students from eight Nigerian collaborator universities will be invited to a U.S. workshop in May 2009 where Van Wie will present teaching pedagogy, DLM technology, and pedagogical assessment approaches for DLM use.

By developing the DLMs, Van Wie and his research associates hope that faculty will be more willing to use the new types of cooperative, hands-on, active, problem-based pedagogy and that students will learn both the core course concepts as well as ‘soft skills’ like the team work and communication skills that are a necessary part of an engineering career.

“In a perfect world, we’d hope to create a new paradigm for learning that will become integrated worldwide, allow students to learn better and allow professors to adapt the best teaching practices out there,” said Van Wie, who ended with a quote from Kirk Humphries: “Telling is not teaching, listening is not learning – you learn to do by doing.”

Van Wie is one of approximately 800 U.S. faculty and professionals who traveled abroad this past year through the Fulbright Scholar Program. Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Senator, J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program’s purpose is to build mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the rest of the world.

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Since its inception, the program has exchanged approximately 273,500 people – 102,900 Americans who have studied, taught, or research abroad and 170,600 students, scholars and teachers from other countries who have engaged in similar activities in the United States. The program operates in over 150 countries worldwide.