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ACS Award In Separations Science & Technology

Sponsored by Waters Corp.

by Britt E. Erickson
January 17, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 3

Credit: Bryan Hester/U of Alabama
Credit: Bryan Hester/U of Alabama

Robin D. Rogers, a professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Green Manufacturing at the University of Alabama, is often credited with kick-starting research on the use of ionic liquids for clean separations. He has also helped attract widespread attention to the field of ionic liquids.

Rogers, 53, is being honored for his work on developing novel, environmentally friendly, ionic-liquid-based solvents for cleaner, more efficient separations. But he has published broadly on all aspects of ionic liquids.

His work on dissolving cellulose in ionic liquids, published in 2002 (J. Am. Chem. Soc., DOI: 10.1021/ja025790m), led to a “phenomenal burst of interest and research” in the use of ionic liquids to separate and process cellulosic biomass, says Kenneth R. Seddon, chair of inorganic chemistry at Queen’s University Belfast, in Northern Ireland.

Today, Rogers is still working with cellulose on what he calls the grand challenge—“to dissolve and cleanly separate all of the component polymers and extractives from biomass.” Such an achievement would enable a biorefinery to make biofuels such as ethanol and hundreds of other products, he says. “We would like to be able to use an ionic liquid to dissolve and cleanly separate each of the biopolymer fractions from biomass in as low an energy process as possible.”

Rogers has also applied ionic liquids to the separation of organic molecules, biomolecules, radionuclides, metal cations, and metal complexes. And he has pioneered the use of ionic liquids in the development of energetic materials and pharmaceuticals, Seddon says.

Up until a few years ago, most of the work on ionic liquids was being performed outside the U.S., Rogers notes. Winning this award is particularly gratifying because it shows “recognition within the U.S. that the field of ionic liquids is interesting and may have something to offer,” he says.

Rogers became interested in ionic liquids—which he defines as salts that melt below 100 °C—more than a decade ago. At that time, he was growing crystals, examining them in the solid state, and trying to understand what was happening to them in the liquid state.

Since then, Rogers has been “tremendously active in promoting ionic liquids and crystal engineering around the world,” says Allan S. Myerson, a professor of chemical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rogers has organized several technical meetings on ionic liquids and has served as founding editor-in-chief of the ACS journal Crystal Growth & Design for the past 10 years.

In his free time, Rogers enjoys music and watching football games. Although he has given up playing tuba in the marching band, an activity he enjoyed for nearly 30 years, he still makes it to the University of Alabama football games to cheer on the crimson tide.

Rogers will present the award address before the Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry.



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