An eminent scholar at Ohio University was inducted Thursday to the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame at the Engineers Club of Dayton for his inventions of alternative fuels and supercritical fluid technologies.
Russ-Ohio Research Scholar in Coal Syngas Utilization Sunggyu “K.B.” Lee, a renowned alternative energy and advanced materials engineer, was recognized alongside cell phone inventor Marvin Cooper and the late water-control expert Arthur Ernest Morgan.
“Dr. Lee is widely regarded as the top researcher in the United States in clean coal technology, syngas conversion to fuel, and functional polymers,” said Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin. “His work – and the influence of his publications and patents on chemical engineering – has greatly strengthened our success in fuel cell and clean coal technologies.”
Lee’s work on the development of alternative fuels and functional materials via environmentally friendly processes has advanced the field of green science and engineering. His ingenious use of supercritical fluid technologies – where fluids are heated or pressurized above their critical point to perform like a gas – has provided an alternative to hazardous organic solvents, changing the way chemicals and petrochemicals are manufactured.
Lee also developed processes to produce transportation fuels from syngas, or synthesis gas, that is derived from coal, biomass, natural gas and other alternative sources. He also has led development of many multifunctional, bio-based and biodegradable polymers for a variety of industries and applications, from diapers to food packaging. In addition, Lee also contributed to the development of efficient processes that can produce value-added chemicals and oxygenates such as methanol and dimethyl ether from carbon dioxide.
The chemical engineering professor said he never dreamed he would receive such an honor. “I am completely humbled and totally overwhelmed. Receiving this award has caused me to re-think, and delay, my retirement plan so that I can catch up to the accomplishments of the other enshrinees in the Hall of Fame,” he noted.
When Lee joined the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology in 2010 he brought with him a prestigious research unit – complete with seven semi-trucks full of research equipment and ten graduate students from his prior institution.
Lee’s many accomplishments include more than a hundred domestic and international patents, eleven books, nine major research monographs, more than $14 million in research funding as principal investigator, and another $9 million as co-investigator. He was promoted to professor and fully endowed chair professor just eight years after receiving his Ph.D., having held his final rank for the last 26 years.
Aside from his distinguished career as a researcher and author, Lee is best-known by students as an engaging teacher who leaves an indelible mark on his students.
“Dr. Lee has a wealth of knowledge over an astonishingly wide range of topics: from supercritical fluids to polymer characterization, from catalysts to catalytic converters, and from coal gasification to the entire history of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Indians,” said Lexie Niemoeller, a recent Ph.D. graduate who moved to Ohio when Lee did, after being mentored by him from her undergraduate years at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
“But if you ask those who know him best, they will say that what Dr. Lee truly enjoys learning about is each and every one of his students. He has an uncanny ability to see a student’s strengths and potential and give them life-changing opportunities both in the classroom and in the laboratory,” said Niemoeller, now a thermal analysis and rheology applications engineer at TA Instruments-Waters, LLC, in the Chicago area.
Lee, who has advised 37 Ph.D. candidates, 56 master’s students, and 24 post-doctoral researchers, considers teaching his greatest pleasure and reward.
“My single best talent is classroom lecturing,” he said. “I love classroom teaching, especially in undergraduate core subjects,” added Lee, who has taught all 30 chemical engineering subjects.
OHIO doctoral candidate Ryan Tschannen, who also followed Lee to Athens, views working with a professor as accomplished and knowledgeable as Lee as a rare opportunity. “Not only does Dr. Lee share his insights and expertise regarding the engineering and academic world, but he teaches lessons that are applicable to everyday life. Learning from Dr. Lee goes miles beyond the classroom; the hands-on experience and encouraged independence help students to develop skills that will take them very far in their field.”
Editor of Encyclopedia of Chemical Processing and a member of the International Advisory Board of the journal Energy Technology, Lee is an overseas member of the National Academy of Engineering of Korea and a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
“He epitomizes the Russ College’s motto, ‘Create for Good’ – words we use to articulate how we as engineers and technologists create for the world and for the future, sustainably,” Irwin noted.