Y.A. Liu, Alumni Distinguished Professor and Frank C. Vilbrandt Endowed Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, has won the Professional Achievement Award for Innovations in Green Process Engineering from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the leading global organization for chemical engineering professionals with more than 72,000 members in more than 110 countries. 

The international award recognizes an individual's outstanding professional achievement in advancing innovations in green process engineering for sustainable energy and environment and distinguished contribution as a professional engineer or chemist, industrial leader, or educator.

Liu was selected specifically for his “contributions to the reduction of water use and wastewater discharge in chemical processes, and reduction of energy consumption in CO2 capture processes.”

One of his most significant contributions is a patented CO2 capture process developed with Ph.D. student Stuart Higgins. It reduces both the heating and cooling utility consumptions of a solvent absorption process and consumes the least solvent regeneration energy of 1.67 GJ per ton of CO2 captured.

In mid 2020, China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (SINOPEC)  — the No. 2 company on the Fortune Global 500 list — began implementing the technology at its Shengli oil field power plant to capture one million tons per year of CO2 for injection into oil field for enhanced oil recovery.

“My colleagues and I were so impressed with the lowest solvent regeneration energy requirement of this new process that is leading competing processes internationally,” said Cao Xianghong, SINOPEC’s former chief technology officer, a past president of the Chemical Industry and Engineering Society of China and a foreign member of the National Academy of Engineering, and among the five professional leaders who nominated Liu for the AIChE award.

Liu had an earlier influence on SINOPEC when, on sabbatical from Virginia Tech in 2004-05, he trained engineers from the company’s 45 refining and chemical subsidiaries. The engineers applied water-saving strategies and design tools from his textbook, “Industrial Water Reuse and Wastewater Minimization” (McGraw-Hill, 1999), authored with his Ph.D. student James Mann, to develop engineering proposals to save freshwater consumption and minimize wastewater discharge. Subsequently, from 2006 to 2008, SINOPEC invested 1.8 billion RMB ($280 million USD) to implement these engineering proposals, resulting in a 60 percent drop in freshwater usage and a 65 percent decrease in wastewater discharge since 2004. 

Liu’s successful water-saving methodology was also adopted by Formosa Plastics Group in Taiwan, resulting in similar reductions.

Another of Liu’s nominators, Lawrence B. Evans, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus, past president of AIChE, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, noted Liu’s industry outreach, unique leadership, and lasting influences on the education and practice of green process engineering through seven groundbreaking textbooks.

“Professor Liu is richly deserving of this recognition for his outstanding and continuing contributions to educating 3,500 chemical engineering students and training 7,500 practicing engineers on sustainable design and optimization, energy and water savings, and CO2 capture,” Evans said.

In conjunction with the award, Liu has been invited to speak at a plenary session at the AIChE annual meeting in November about his research in the area of energy reduction with heat pumps for CO2 capture processes.

- Written by Barbara Micale

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