A legacy of innovation: Prof. Izak Nieuwoudt awarded prestigious Doctorate of Engineering

Prof. Izak Nieuwoudt, an extraordinary professor affiliated with the Department of Chemical Engineering, has recently been honoured with the prestigious Doctorate of Engineering (DEng) degree from Stellenbosch University (SU). The DEng is awarded to individuals who already hold a PhD in Engineering and have demonstrated exceptional contributions to the engineering sciences over an extended period.

This degree highlights Prof. Nieuwoudt’s significant impact on the field of chemical engineering. His achievement recognises his research and development contributions, which focused on the theoretical developments and practical applications of mass transfer principles in separation technologies. “I have devoted my entire career to the field of separation technology. It is very rewarding to be recognised for contributions to the industry, students, and society,” Prof. Nieuwoudt reflects.

His DEng dissertation represents a culmination of his work over the past 36 years and covers three key areas of contribution in separation technology: improved separation processes, enhanced separation tower internals, and separation technology education. Prof. Nieuwoudt’s research in separation processes and tower internals has generated over two billion dollars in value for companies. His work optimised solvent-driven separations through Computer Aided Molecular Design (CAMD) methodologies, reducing energy and capital consumption and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Innovations in separation tower internals, such as INTALOX®ULTRA™ random packing and PROF.LUX® severe service packing, increased separation efficiency and capacity, while his focus on education ensured the dissemination of knowledge to future engineers through university courses and specialised training programmes, like the Koch-Glitsch Mass Transfer School and the FRI Distillation Academy. Under Prof. Nieuwoudt’s guidance, 14 Master’s and 7 PhD students graduated in the field of separation technology, while nearly 1000 students attended his courses.

Prof. Nieuwoudt’s non-confidential contributions to the field are outlined in 410 patents (46 patent families), 50 papers, and 81 conference contributions. Notably, at the 2022 Spring Meeting, the Separations Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) recognised Nieuwoudt’s numerous achievements in distillation, extraction, absorption, and troubleshooting, dedicating an honours session to celebrate his lifetime of contributions as an engineer, educator, inventor, and R&D leader in separations technology and engineering. The recognition from AIChE, he acknowledges, is a testament to his contributions, but what truly brings him pride is the impact he has had on students and engineers. “Even though I am proud of the technologies I have developed and the impact they have had on industry and society, they will have a limited lifespan. I am also proud of the students I have delivered to industry and the impact I have had on the growth of so many people.”

For aspiring engineers, particularly in the realm of separation technology, Prof. Nieuwoudt offers sage advice: grasp the underlying fundamentals deeply. His motto has always been “you have to understand the underlying fundamentals really well, but you also have to understand how to apply them in practice”. He emphasises that merely understanding current solutions is insufficient in a field where innovation is constant.

Looking forward, Prof. Nieuwoudt sees both challenges and opportunities in the ever-evolving landscape of technology and industry. With a global push towards decarbonisation and improved energy efficiency, he believes chemical engineers have a crucial role to play. He notes, “Separation technology will not go away, since so much of our quality of life depends on it. However, chemical engineers can reduce the energy footprint of these technologies.” By leveraging their understanding of thermodynamics and embracing emerging technologies, practitioners can work towards a more sustainable future while ensuring the continued importance of separation technology in various industries.

In a career marked by accolades and achievements, Prof. Izak Nieuwoudt’s journey serves as an inspiration for those aspiring to make a meaningful difference in the world of science and technology. The Department of Chemical Engineering congratulates Prof. Nieuwoudt for his outstanding contributions and well-deserved recognition.