Ken Anderson

Southern Illinois University

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Ken Anderson with student at Thermaquatica

Professor Ken B. Anderson

Professor Anderson’s research is focused on coal.  “Coal is something of a dirty word nowadays” he says, “but there is nothing wrong with coal as a material, it’s just fossil wood.  The problems with coal all stem from what we do with it.  For 200 years our strategy has been – dig it up, and burn it.  We can do better”.  His research into environmentally benign ways to use coal led to the development of a new process called Oxidative Hydrothermal Dissolution (OHD) where instead of burning the coal, its treated with small amounts of oxygen in superheated water.  Anderson and his team discovered that OHD could break down the coal into useful products without generating significant amounts of CO2 or other pollutants that are often associated with conventional uses of coal. He subsequently went on to prove that OHD is equally applicable to a whole variety of other materials including wood and agricultural wastes. His process has now been patented in multiple countries around the world and in 2010, working with SIU’s Office of Technology Transfer, he started Thermaquatica Inc. to take the technology out of the lab and into the market place.  The first step was to scale up the process, so Thermaquatica built a small engineering scale version of the process to prove that it could be operated continuously, to make product in large enough batches for potential customers to test, and to prove that the overall economics are feasible.  It works.  The company has already signed one major international license for OHD technology and is actively working with other partners in several countries.  “The goal is to have the first commercial plant built in the next few years” he said.  "If that’s successful we expect that others will follow."  The first product produced by OHD will be an agricultural stimulant called Fulvate that naturally triggers plants to grow better, increasing crop yields.  Lab tests with OHD Fulvate have been extremely encouraging and large field trials are now underway.  Other products that can be produced by OHD include precursors for biodegradable plastics and a host of others as well. “If everything continues as it has so far, this could positively impact the lives of millions of people around the world and it all started as an idea, here at SIU.”  Ken Anderson is a full professor in our Department of Geology.