Chemical engineering department head receives environmental award


By Jamie Oberdick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Environmental Division has awarded the 2020 Lawrence K. Cecil Award to Phillip Savage, head of the Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering and Walter L. Robb Family Endowed Chair.

The award is the most prestigious environmental award within AIChE and is given to Environmental Division members who have demonstrated outstanding chemical engineering contribution and achievement in the preservation or improvement of the environment.

“Phil is an innovator of tremendous impact,” said Justin Schwartz, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering. “He has spent his career developing novel methods to handle waste materials, including conversion into clean energy. This award recognizes the significant impact of his environmental work.”

Savage’s research for the last 30 years has focused on developing complex chemical reaction systems for improving the environment. Early in his career, this included elimination of hazardous waste, including service on study committees that advised on the destruction of hydrolysates from stockpile chemical warfare agents at a United States Department of Defense site in Kentucky.

Later in his career, Savage focused on finding ways to avoid waste production and coming up with ways to repurpose the waste that cannot be avoided. This includes applying green chemistry principles to convert renewable and waste materials into environmentally friendly liquid and gaseous fuels. His recent work focuses on hydrothermal conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals.

“We work on technologies for making renewable transportation fuels from biomass such as algae,” Savage said. “This way we can become cultivators of our fuel instead of remaining hunter-gatherers, like we are when drilling for oil.”

Along with his department head role, Savage is also editor-in-chief of the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

Savage has trained more than 40 doctoral students, including four who were fellows of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results program that supports graduate students in environmental studies. Savage’s students went on to work in government, academia, industry and national labs, including two who hold key sustainability leadership positions at DuPont and Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University.

Savage was an editorial board member for the journal Environmental Progress and Sustainable Energy and served as a guest editor for a special issue related to algal biofuels early in the development of that field. He also served a term as a director for the AIChE Environmental Division and served in the chair sequence of the Green Chemistry subdivision of the Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Division of ACS from 2006 to 2008.

Savage also has published more than 230 research articles in archival journals and has given over 100 invited lectures at other universities and international symposia. He holds three United States patents, two of which have been licensed and put into practice commercially.

Savage received the inaugural (2015) Energy & Fuels Excellence in Publication Award from the ACS, the 2014 Research Excellence Award from the AIChE Sustainable Engineering Forum, the inaugural (2009) Michigan Governor’s Award for Green Chemistry and the 2001 National Catalyst Award from the American Chemistry Council in recognition of his outstanding teaching and contributions to chemical education. He is a fellow of both the AIChE and ACS.

“It is gratifying to receive this award as it is the highest recognition from AIChE for chemical engineering contributions to environmental problems,” Savage said. “I also appreciate that the award criteria consider contributions in education, service and mentoring, in addition to contributions in research.”


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Megan Lakatos

“Phil’s work in developing innovative new ways of handling waste materials, including conversion into clean energy, is a perfect example of the field of chemical engineering’s vast contributions to improving the Earth’s environment.”
—Justin Schwartz, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering