Y. A. Liu, Alumni Distinguished Professor and the Frank C. Vilbrandt Endowed Professor of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Liu was honored for excellence in design teaching, pioneering textbooks and creative scholarship in sustainable engineering, and global leadership in implementing energy/water savings, and CO2 capture. According to the association, new fellows are elected whose efforts on behalf of the advancement of science and its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished.

Elected by their peers and representing a broad range of AAAS “sections,” including statistics, neuroscience, engineering, psychology, and geology/geography, Liu is among five new Fellows from Virginia Tech and the most Fellows from any Virginia university to the AAAS in 2019.

Liu will be honored at a ceremony on Feb. 15, 2020, at the AAAS Fellow Forum during the organization’s annual meeting in Seattle. Prior to the event in February, Fellows will be named in a November issue of the journal Science.

Since joining the College of Engineering’s Department of Chemical Engineering faculty in 1982, Liu has achieved international recognition for his promotion of sustainable development and environmental stewardship. He and his graduate students have made significant contributions in the areas of energy and water savings, and design and optimization of polymer, biodiesel, and petroleum refining operations. 

For close to 40 years, Liu has worked in industrial outreach during university breaks promoting sustainable development in Virginia industries and developing countries.

While serving as a senior advisor to the president of China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (SINOPEC), the largest energy and chemical company in Asia and a global top three chemical company, Liu led the development of water-saving engineering and investment proposals throughout the company’s 45 refining and chemical subsidiaries. This effort resulted in a $256 million investment, a 60 percent decrease in freshwater usage, and a 65 percent decrease in wastewater discharge.

With doctoral student Stuart Higgins, Liu developed an energy-saving CO2 capture process that consumes the least solvent regeneration energy ever reported in the literature and patents. SINOPEC is currently implementing the new process to capture one million tons of CO2 per year for its power plant at Shengli Oilfield for tertiary oil recovery.

Cao Xianghong, SINOPEC’s former chief technology officer and an elected foreign member of the National Academy of Engineering had praised Liu’s innovative process by describing it as achieving the lowest solvent regeneration energy requirement, leading in this area on an international scale.

Liu’s unique partnership with industry has influenced and impacted Liu’s pedagogical techniques in the classroom and the lab, providing students with applicable design skills to projects that represent actual problems faced by engineers.

Liu and eight of his Virginia Tech doctoral students have co-authorized seven pioneering textbooks on the methodologies for industrial water reuse and wastewater minimization, for the simulation, optimization and sustainable design of polymer plants, petroleum refineries, and adsorptive and chromatographic separation processes, and for the artificial intelligence and neural networks in bioprocessing and chemical engineering. All of their textbooks have received excellent reviews by academic experts and industrial practitioners.

Students in Liu’s design courses have won top awards in design competitions over a dozen times. He has received stellar teaching evaluations, reflected in being chosen by the students as the Sporn Award recipient twice for excellence in engineering teaching.

The American Society for Engineering Education twice honored Liu with the George Westinghouse Award for excellence in engineering education and the Fred Merryfield Award for excellence in both teaching and research of engineering design. In 2000, Liu was recognized with an Outstanding Faculty Award from Virginia’s Governor. Recognizing Liu’s extraordinary dedication to undergraduate teaching, the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education honored Liu as one of the U.S. Professors of the Year in 2015.

Prior to joining the Virginia Tech community, Liu began his professional career at Auburn University, Alabama in 1974. He earned a bachelor’s degree from National Taiwan University, a master’s degree from Tufts University, and a doctoral degree from Princeton University; all in chemical engineering. 

- Written by Tina Russell