Bipin V. Vora of Des Plaines, Ill., will be honored April 9 by the worlds largest scientific society for exploring new, more efficient ways to make chemicals from petroleum, such as laundry detergent that breaks down into harmless substances in the environment. He will receive the 2002 Award in Industrial Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in Orlando, Fla.
As a chemical engineer for UOP, Vora's goal for the past 30 years has been to develop new technologies or to improve established ones based on petroleum. His specialty is olefins, the most common building block for plastic, carpets, automobile body parts, clothing and other products.
These versatile molecules are also the basis of many environmentally-friendly detergents — versions of olefins called linear alkylbenzenes. Vora has helped make their manufacture more efficient and affordable.
If a compound isnt biodegradable, it can be harmful in the environment because it stays around in the water, said Vora. In the late 1960s, UOP scientists invented a method to make linear alkylbenzenes and since then, most manufacturing plants in the world use this technology.
Most of the atoms in Vora's linear alkylbenzenes — the cleaning components of most detergents — are lined up like beads on a string, a form that bacteria digest as a source of energy. Previous versions were what chemists call highly branched; that is, the structure of their atoms looked like tree branches and was difficult for bacteria to break down as food.
The technologies developed by Mr. Vora at UOP for the production of linear alkylbenzenes ... have been critical in maintaining the quality of our environment, wrote a colleague to support the award nomination. Vora emphasized his teams contributions, saying, I just happened to be the vehicle to move it forward.