Lilia A. Abron, the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, founded PEER Consultants, an environmental firm, in 1978.

Innovators in Environmental Protection | Working for a better world

The structures of specific materials are studied by chemical engineers as they work to understand and control environmental toxins. Courtesy University of Delaware.

Chemical engineers are ideally equipped to meet ambitious environmental challenges. They are helping reduce the "environmental footprint" of industrial facilities and effectively manage hazardous pollutants in airborne and waterborne waste streams. The chemical engineers who have made significant environmental contributions are so numerous that the list of noteworthy contributors below is meant to be merely illustrative.

Joseph DeSimone

Joseph DeSimone of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, carried out pioneering work in creating a family of nontoxic surfactants based on the enhanced solvency of liquid carbon dioxide. He also developed ways to use these safer solvents. His contribution helps reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous organic and halogenated solvents in the chemical, automotive, aerospace, electronics, petroleum-refining, pharmaceutical, and pulp-and-paper industries.

In 1997, DeSimone was awarded the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Enrique Iglesia

Enrique Iglesia, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, has long been involved with the design, synthesis, and characterization of inorganic solids used as catalysts. Specifically, he has developed environmentally beneficial catalysts that are used during energy production and petrochemical synthesis. Iglesia has been awarded 37 patents thus far in his career, an achievement that signifies the breadth of his technical contributions.

In 2003, Iglesia received the R. H. Wilhelm Award in Chemical Reaction Engineering from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and in 2005 he was awarded the George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon Chemistry by the American Chemical Society.

Kam Sirkar

Kam Sirkar has helped devise methods of creating membranes with extraordinarily tiny pores—the tinier the better. Currently, he and his colleagues at the New Jersey Institute of Technology are pursuing the development of nanoporous membranes whose nanometer-sized pores will enable unimaginably exacting separations.

Walter Weber, Jr.

Walter Weber, Jr., is considered by many to be the "father of activated carbon treatment" for water and wastewater. His classic book Physicochemical Processes for Water Quality Control was published in 1972. Weber is a professor of environmental and ecological sciences and engineering in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Michigan. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineers, and among numerous awards he has received is the 2007 Lawrence K. Cecil Award from the Environmental Division of AIChE for excellence in environmental applications of chemical engineering.

Ralph Yang

Ralph Yang, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, received the Clarence (Larry) G. Gerhold Award in 1997 from the Separations Division of AIChE. He was honored for his outstanding contributions in research, development, and application of chemical-separations technologies that minimize the formation of harmful pollutants early in the process. His many achievements include groundbreaking work on the development of desulfurization sorbents that carry out selective adsorption of sulfur from diesel fuels and of zeolites that remove nitrogen from transportation fuels.