2009 Distinguished achievement award: Joseph Powell

// Chemical & Biological Engineering

Tags: alumni, CBE E-Day, Engineers' Day, Joseph Powell

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Joseph B. Powell
Process Development Advisor and Shell Chief Scientist
Chemical Engineering
Shell Global Solutions U.S. Inc
PhDChe ’84
Houston, Texas

Joseph B. Powell likes a challenge. “I chose chemical engineering because it was considered the most difficult undergraduate curriculum,” he says of his studies at the University of Virginia, where he graduated with a B.S. degree in 1978. At the University of Virginia, Powell assisted with continuous bioreactors, wrote a thesis about reactor control, and interned for a coal gasification project (FMC). These experiences led him to pursue an advanced degree at UW-Madison, where he worked with Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor Emeritus Stan Langer on chromatographic reactors and syngas chemistry. He earned his PhD in chemical engineering in 1984.

In 1988, Powell joined Shell Development Company in Houston after four years of enhanced oil recovery research and development for Exxon. Named in 2006 as shell chief scientist for chemical engineering in addition to his role as principal advisor for process development, Powell advises the company on technology strategy and leads initiatives in multi-throughput experimentation. He heads a network that scouts for new ideas and serves as team lead for advanced biofuels and enhanced oil recovery projects.

“I work for a major energy and oil company because I truly believe the work matters and contributes to the public good”, Powell says.

His career achievements include innovation and commercialization of new processes to produce Bisphenol-A and 1,3-Propanediol, which are used in consumer products. His awards include the Arthur Dehon Little Award for Chemical Engineering Innovation, the R&D Magazine Top-100 Award and an American Chemical Society Team Innovation Award. He is inventor on more than 45 U.S. patents and has authored numerous technical publications, including a co-edited book titled Sustainability in the Process Industries: Cases and Impact. He is a life member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and program coordinator for its process development division.

Powell remains connected to UW-Madison by leading Shell’s collaborative efforts with Virent Energy Systems Inc, a UW-Madison spin-off working to commercialize thermocatalytic routes to biofuels.

Powell and his wife, Caryn, have three sons, Jason, Matt and Stuart. On weekends, the family enjoys gathering at the beaches along the Texas coast. In his spare time, Powell is a youth athletics coach for local roller hockey, basketball and baseball teams.