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USA Science & Engineering Festival – Role Models in Science & Engineering Achievement

Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal -- Chemical Engineer

Born in India, Rakesh Agrawal studied extensively there, earning his Bachelor's of Science degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in 1975. He then came to the U.S. to pursue his post-graduate studies, and here he continued to cultivate a keen interest in energy production and ways to improve energy efficiency. He would later expand his focus to include hydrogen cell cars, solar energy and exploring the potential of biofuels.

Why He's Important: Rakesh is recognized worldwide as an innovator in the field of chemical engineering, particularly as it relates to improving the energy efficiency and reducing the cost of gas liquefaction and separation. Among his primary achievements in this area: he developed an effective process to cool natural gas to the point that it liquifies, thus helping the gas to be transported safely across long distances by ship, rail or other means -- resulting in improving our energy efficiency. "Natural gas is less polluted than coal," he explains, "so all over the world natural gas is preferred for that reason." His innovations have had significant positive impacts on electronic device manufacturing, liquefied gas production, and the supply of industrial gases for diverse industries.

Other Achievements: For his considerable contributions to his field, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Barack Obama in 2011.The award is the highest honor for technological achievement bestowed by the U.S. government. Rakesh holds 116 US patents and nearly 500 non-US patents, plus he has authored more than 93 technical papers in his field.

Current Activities: He is a distinguished professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University in Indiana where he is involved with solving the formidable technical challenges associated with developing practical hydrogen fuel cells for use in automobiles, in addition to exploring the practical production of biofuels (liquid fuels made from sustainably-obtained biomass such as plant wastes from agriculture).

Education: He earned his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), his Master's degree from the University of Delaware, and his Bachelor's from the Indian Institute of Technology -- all in the field of Chemical Engineering.

In His Own Words: Commenting on the challenges that he and other scientists face in developing practical hydrogen fuel cells for cars, he says: "In my mind, this goal is definitely doable, but we must solve very daunting technical challenges [which include] hydrogen production, distribution and storage for which chemical engineers can potentially provide solutions through research."