George E. Keller, II
Class of 1955, BS
George Keller’s career has soared on the scientific ladder of success. Retired today from an extremely productive life with industry where he says he thrived in “an invention mode,” Mr. Keller has now launched a new career. The inventor co-founded a start-up company, NewCarbon, Inc. In this capacity, his goals remain challenging. His plan is to create high-tech jobs and high-tech materials in his hometown area of Charleston, West Virginia.
The 1955 chemical engineering graduate of Virginia Tech, who went on to get his master’s and doctoral degrees at Penn State, spent the bulk of his career with Union Carbide where he was given great freedom in his work. As the manager of the Separations and Process Fundamentals Skill Center for 26 years, he invented a host of new technologies and championed and led significant efforts by others to bring these technologies to commercial fruition. “We had so many ideas and eventually just ran out of the ability to do something about them,” he recalls.
One of these efforts by him and his team earned Union Carbide a runner-up Kirkpatrick Honor Award in 1981 for the top commercialized chemical engineering technology in the world. “This was the project I have smiled most about because it spoke to a human need,” Mr. Keller says. He and a colleague developed a practical machine for the delivery of oxygen to people who required the gas on a regular basis, but who lived in their own homes. Mr. Keller’s machine eliminated the earlier technology where a person was connected to a bulky five-foot pressurized cylinder of oxygen.
Union Carbide received a second Kirkpatrick Award in 1991, partially for Mr. Keller’s leadership of his group in the development of a spray-coating technology involving the use of supercritical carbon dioxide as an organic solvent replacement. This technology reduces volatile organic compound emissions by about 70 percent and substantially improves the quality of the coating. The furniture, auto sub-assembly, and kitchenware industries, among others, now use this technology.
Another outstanding accomplishment attributed to Mr. Keller and his center includes the discovery of a new way to form ethylene, the basic chemical building block for petrochemicals. This ethylene is derived from methane, an abundant raw material. His discovery opens the possibility of using the copious methane for olefin production.
Mr. Keller’s career accomplishments at Union Carbide earned him membership in the prestigious National Academy of Engineering and the position of Fellow in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and in the American Institute of Chemists. Chemical Engineering magazine presented him with its Outstanding Accomplishment award in 1990. Five years later, he became AIChE’s first non-academic winner of the Clarence Gerhold Award for Excellence in Separation Science and Technology.
When Mr. Keller retired in 1997, he knew he wanted to remain active. With 40-plus years of experience in chemical engineering, he decided to use his background to try and raise the standard of living in his area. His plan was to assist West Virginia University commercialize a process for the production of a special coal-based pitch, a precursor for a host of high-tech carbon and graphite products. Since co-founding NewCarbon Inc., he has enticed a chemical plant to work with him to commercialize the technology.
“I am having more fun than a body should have,” Mr. Keller grins.
Class of: 1955
Year Inducted into Academy: 2002