Recognized for Clean Metals Production Method
By Mark Dwortzan
The American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) has named Professor Uday Pal (ME, MSE) as the winner of its 2015 James Douglas Gold Medal Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in nonferrous metallurgy, the extraction, purification, production and utilization of metals other than iron. Pal will receive the award at an AIME meeting in early 2015.
“It is very gratifying when recognition comes from one’s peer group in the same field,” said Pal, who has authored more than 200 publications and 23 patents on high-temperature chemical and electrochemical processes, including metals extraction and refining. “This award is special and humbling, considering the list of past awardees, many of whom are regarded as pillars of our field.”
Pal is the inventor of solid oxide membrane (SOM) electrolysis, an inexpensive, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, one-step method that he has developed over the past 15 years to separate pure metals from their oxides. SOM electrolysis continuously feeds metal oxide into a molten salt bath, where electricity splits it into metal and oxygen gas in separate chambers.
Conventional metals production technologies employ a lot of carbon-based energy sources to reduce oxides, and generate significant amounts of pollutants, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. SOM electrolysis promises to substantially decrease energy consumption and eliminate carbon and other environmentally harmful emissions associated with reducing oxides to metals, all for less cost. So far Pal has developed and applied his patented SOM electrolysis technology to produce magnesium, titanium, silicon, aluminum and other energy-intensive metals from their oxides.
Infinium, a Natick-based company spun off from Pal’s lab, is now working toward scale-up of this technology.
“Uday is an outstanding practitioner of chemical metallurgy and materials science, bridging the gap between fundamental understanding and direct industrial relevance,” said Adam C. Powell, IV, CTO and co-founder of Infinium. “He has been a pioneer in the new sub-discipline of green metallurgy and materials, and has launched the careers of dozens of engineering graduate students, including my own.”
The award is named after the industrialist James Douglas, founder of Phelps Dodge Corporation and twice the president of AIME. Douglas was a mining engineer, a metallurgical engineer and inventor of metallurgical equipment.