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Nalco chemist earns Society of Chemical Industry Award

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Dr. Rodney H. Banks, who works for Naperville-based Nalco Company, knows a thing or two about water conservation and helping water cooling systems operate at maximum efficiency.

Because his development of state-of-the-art technology is so outstanding, Banks is going to be recognized later this year with the highest national award in his field.

On Sept. 20 in Philadelphia, Banks will be presented with the Society of Chemical Industry Award, the highest honor given for achievement in applied chemistry in the United States. The SCI Perkin Medal was first awarded at a banquet held by the SCI in New York in 1906. Since then, more than 100 similar awards have been given to notable scientists.

“The fact that there are people among this group that have been Nobel Prize winners and so forth really makes this an honor,” Bank says.

Saving water

A Nalco Research Fellow, Banks and fellow colleague John Hoots became leaders in the invention and commercialization of TRASAR — a technology that is used to monitor cooling systems, which over time, results in reduced water and energy use.

Charlie Pajor, senior communications manager for Nalco, explains how the system works.

“Cooling systems for comfort in commercial buildings and for cooling industrial processes use large amounts of water every day, and they require treatment to control bacteria, mineral deposits and corrosion in that cooling water,” Pajor says. “Rod’s team developed 3D TRASAR technology, which combines innovative chemistry, advanced sensors and sophisticated modeling software to monitor water conditions continuously and add appropriate chemicals only when needed.

“The system allows cooling towers to operate longer without adding fresh water, called makeup water, cutting industrial water use as well as saving energy.”

First introduced in the late 1980s, the technology has evolved over time. The current generation 3D automation technology, which was first introduced in 2004, has won a United States Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for its cooling water application. Its use has since been expanded to a variety of additional applications, including boiler water treatment, membrane operations, paper making and refinery process applications.

Last stop Nalco

Banks, 58, was born in Long Beach, Calif., and moved within a few years to Maryland where his father worked as a chemist. Banks says it was his father who first gave him “a scientific orientation.”

“My dad got me interested in chemistry at an early age and would buy me chemistry sets,” Banks says. “He’d bring home various chemicals, and he’d show me things.”

When the college years arrived, Banks elected to enroll at John Hopkins, just 90 minutes or so from his home. He earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry in 1975 and decided it was time to go back to the West Coast.

“I applied to a number of schools and got accepted at the University of California, Berkeley, which had an excellent chemistry department and Nobel prize winners, and was also state funded so I could afford to go there,” Banks said. “I went for my doctorate degree and graduated back in 1980, and came out here to work at Argonne for a year.”

Banks’ work history only includes one more stop because he saw an ad in a Chicago newspaper a year later for Nalco and has worked for the Naperville-based company ever since. Banks lives in Aurora with his wife. The couple has two adult children, including a 36-year-old daughter who lives in Batavia and a 32-year-old son in Plainfield.

Science superstar

Throughout his career, Banks has developed various other system control innovations like TRASAR that optimize water and energy usage and minimize impact on the environment. Banks holds more than 20 patents and has published nine scientific papers.

Chairperson for the SCI group Stephanie Burns praises Banks for his work.

“Rod Banks is an outstanding industrial technologist,” Burns says. “This award recognizes his fundamental contributions to new sensor technologies that have led to improved water and energy efficiency for a variety of industries.”

Bank’s colleagues at Nalco realize they have a superstar on their hands.

“Rodney has had a tremendous impact on our world,” says Dr. Mani Ramesh, Nalco’s chief technology officer. “Rod and his colleague, John Hoots, led a team that developed 3D TRASAR technology, which has saved more than 1 billion cubic meters of water worldwide since it was introduced.

“It is exciting to get this kind of recognition for Rod, his team, and for Nalco’s research and development operations here in Naperville. For a chemist in the U.S., it’s like winning an Academy Award or the Pulitzer Prize.”



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