Elected in 1991
“For combining novel engineering concepts with combustion science to reduce atmospheric pollution and improve fuel efficiency in industrial combustion processes.”
BY RAY ROBERGE AND SHO KOBAYASHI SUBMITTED BY THE NAE HOME SECRETARY
JOHN ERLING ANDERSON, a leading high-temperature industrial process scientist and former senior corporate fellow of Praxair, Inc., died on November 4, 2012, at the age of 83.
John was born on March 12, 1929. Raised in Hingham, Massachusetts, he grew up in the same close-knit Swedish community as his wife Karin. Their fathers were immigrants who worked at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. John’s father did not have a formal higher education, but he had a love of mathematics that he shared with his son, making up mathematical games as they did chores together.
John received a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated with a BS in chemical engineering in 1950. He went on to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he received an MS in chemical engineering in 1951, then returned to MIT, where he received his ScD in 1955. He felt privileged to have E.R. Gilliland as his doctoral thesis advisor and to be a teaching assistant for “Doc” Lewis. He also felt that he benefited greatly from attending MIT with returning World War II veterans, who were serious about their studies and set high standards.
In 1954 John joined Linde Air Products Company, a division of Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, in Tonawanda, New York, where he worked in the area of high-temperature chemistry and specializing in the properties of high-pressure (1 atm and up), high-current plasma arcs. In 1956 he transferred to the Linde Research Laboratory in Speedway, Indiana, and in the early 1960s invented a high-intensity light source by dynamically “squeezing” an arc in a quartz tube, attaining temperatures of 20,000–30,000°F. This technology was used in pumping early-generation solid state crystal (e.g., ruby lasers). His work also included an arc torch process for manufacturing acetylene, a laser welding process, and several arc welding processes.
In 1965 he transferred to the Linde Development Lab in Newark, New Jersey, where he concentrated on applied research and the development of commercially viable applications. He invented the PUROX municipal waste disposal process that pyrolyzed solid waste into fuel gas, liquid, and inert slag in a shaft furnace. This was the beginning of his pioneering work on high-temperature industrial combustion applications, and in 1974 he received Chemical Engineering Magazine’s Merit Award for Personal Outstanding Achievement in recognition of the PUROX process.
In 1969 John was named a Union Carbide Corporate Fellow and moved with Gas Products Development to the new Technical Center in Tarrytown, NY. There he began working on the concept of using oxygen, instead of air, in high-temperature industrial furnaces to achieve fuel savings and reduce pollution. To overcome the problem of extremely high flame temperature and high NOx emission of oxy-fuel combustion, he invented the “aspirator” burner, applying a novel engineering concept. The “A” burner had commercial applications in many industrial furnaces such as steel heating, aluminum melting, and glass melting.
Thanks to the successful application of the “A” burner technology for hazardous waste incinerators to clean up Superfund sites, Union Carbide received the 1989 Kirkpatrick Chemical Engineering Achievement Award. As a result of this
work, John became a Union Carbide Senior Corporate Fellow in 1982, was named “Inventor of the Year” by the New York Intellectual Property Law Association in 1989, and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1991.
John’s later work explored high-velocity coherent jets and high-temperature turbulent jets. He found new applications utilizing unique jet properties, leading to the development and commercialization of the CoJet® coherent jet gas injection system, which is now the preferred method for injecting oxygen in electric arc furnace steelmaking—over 80 percent of these furnaces today use this technology. John also developed the hot oxygen burner that is now a platform technology with commercial applications in emission control, partial oxidation, and rapid burnout of various fuels.
In addition to his corporate work, in 1977 John gave a January course of four lectures at MIT on “Heat Transfer from Flames, Arcs, Lasers, and Electron Beams,” which he enjoyed very much. After his retirement in 1999, he remained an active consultant to Praxair until 2001 when the Tarrytown laboratory closed. His desire to contribute through technical innovation was strong throughout his 47-year career at Union Carbide and Praxair (which was spun off from Union Carbide and became a separate company in 1992). He was the inventor or coinventor of 44 US patents and authored or coauthored numerous papers. He was a role model and mentor to many young engineers throughout his years at Praxair. He is greatly missed.
John loved the outdoors, especially camping and hiking with his family. He enjoyed books, music, and Broadway shows. He was an excellent bridge player.
He is survived by his wife Karin, their four children—Lynn Seirup, Kristin Sands, Claire Dunn, and Mark Anderson—eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.