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The University of Alabama

Chemist, Leader in Green Solvent Field Named Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor at UA

Dr. Robin Rogers

Dr. Robin Rogers

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A chemistry professor, whose discovery of a way to dissolve cellulose forms the basis of new research efforts to turn trees into valuable chemicals and fuels, is the winner of The University of Alabama’s Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor award.

Dr. Robin Rogers, Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry, distinguished research professor and director of The University of Alabama’s Center for Green Manufacturing, will be honored in a ceremony at the University’s President’s Mansion Nov. 13.   

This award is presented annually to a UA faculty member judged to have made extraordinary contributions that reflect credit on the individual, on his or her field of study, on students, and on the University. It was created by Frederick Moody Blackmon of Montgomery to honor the memory of his grandmother, Sarah McCorkle Moody of Tuscaloosa.

Rogers led a team that won the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2005 Green Chemistry Challenge award for demonstrating how a specific solvent dissolves cellulose – found in the cell walls of trees and other plants. The liquid solvent is part of a new class of solvents, known as ionic liquids, that are typically non-toxic, nonflammable, and do not evaporate, significantly reducing harmful emissions.

“This work is of both fundamental and practical significance,” wrote Kenneth R. Seddon, professor of the Queen’s University of Belfast, of the discovery in support of Rogers’ nomination. Seddon is one of Rogers’ international research colleagues. “There is estimated to be 7 x 1011 tons of cellulose in existence, making it the world’s most abundant natural organic chemical and, hence, the most important bio-renewable resource on earth …,” Seddon wrote. “Robin’s work is universally recognised as initiating a breakthrough technology.”

The discovery has been licensed to BASF.

“The science and technology behind the use of ionic liquids is potentially revolutionary, with significant potential for new sustainable industrial development,” wrote Dr. Lowell Kispert, a retired UA professor of chemistry. “The discovery of non-volatile solvents for the direct dissolution of cellulose that can be easily reconstituted in a variety of advanced materials could lead to a reduction of synthetic polymers.”

Rogers works with Dr. Dan Daly, director of UA’s Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs program, to develop new start-up companies based on UA-developed technology in the Bama Technology Incubator.   

He earned both his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from The University of Alabama. He has taught and conducted research as a UA professor since 1996. He has been awarded eight patents, has four others pending, and has published more than 645 research articles in peer-reviewed scholarly publications. In August, he was inducted into the inaugural class of Fellows of the American Chemical Society for “demonstrated excellence.”

UA’s department of chemistry is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All-American Teams.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.