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Donald B. Robinson, FCIC: educator and entrepeneur.

The Province of Alberta, in recognition of the distinguished career of Donald B. Robinson, FCIC, bestowed on him last year one of its highest awards, the Sir Frederick Haultain Prize. This award is given to outstanding Albertans for significant achievements in the physicial sciences. Robinson has had a marvellous career as an educator, entrepreneur and international authority on the phase behaviour of hydrocarbon gases and liquids. He is currently chairman of the board of D.B. Robinson & Associates Ltd. (Edmonton) and professor emeritus of chemical engineering at the University of Alberta.

Born in Calgary and brought up in the Okanagan Valley, Robinson obtained BSc and MSc degrees in chemical engineering from UBC, and a PhD in the same field from the University of Michigan. At Michigan, he studied under Donald L. Katz, a world leader in natural gas and gas processing technology and the educator of many technological leaders.

Robinson started work at the University of Alberta as assistant professor of chemical engineering in 1948, and over the ensuing 36 years he was an outstanding teacher specializing in the field of thermodynamics. Many classes recognized his ability to present technical material in an understandable way and fondly regard him for the quality of his contribution to their education. He served as head of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering from 1959 to 1970, during which time the department grew substantially in size and statute.

He was active in research from the start of his time spent at the University. The focus of this research, which involved 27 masters and doctoral students, was the application of thermodynamics to the oil and gas industry. For example, he carried out extensive research on gas hydrates, compounds that form from hydrocarbons in the presence of water, and which cause operating problems in the production of oil and natural gas. A most significant research contribution was the development of the Peng-Robinson equation of state. Dr. Peng worked with Robinson as a post-doctoral fellow in the early 1970s. The formulated a mathematical equation for the representation of the pressure-volume-temperature behaviour of pure substances and of mixtures. This equation has been appleid to the calculation of vapour-liquid equilibria in mixtures of hydrocarbons and selected nonhydrocarbons such as hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen at elevated pressures. It has proved to be superior to all previous equations of state used for this purpse. In 10 years, this superiority was recognized and descriptions of the equation are now incorporated in textbooks. Many commercial software packages use the Peng-Robinson equation of state in their calculation routines. It has become a standard for the prediction of phase equilibria in applications as diverse as gas processing plants and the design of enhanced oil recovery systems. The equation forms the basis for one of the most widely-used computer programs for the prediction of hydrocarbon phase behaviour, critical properties, hydrate formation and other properties of complex multicomponent systems.

Robinson's theoretical and experimental work on the phase behaviour of hydrocarbon mixtures and systems containing carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide still continues, and has resulted in the publication of over 190 research papers and reports.

In 1981, Robinson decided to found a unique university spin-off company to apply the expertise gained while a staff member at the university to the solution of commercial problems involving fluids in the petroleum and petrochemical industries. He formed D.B. Robinson & Associates, surrounding himself with associated who had the talents needed to solve problems in phase behaviour, computer modelling and design of high-pressure equipment. The firm offers high-quality specialized services to industry, in Canada and world-wide such as: experimental determination of thermophysical properties, including phase equilibria; design and fabrication of high-pressure laboratory equipment such as pumps, autoclaves and viscometers; and computer software for the calculation of phase equilibria and the simulation of processes. A noted example of the equipment was the development of a unique sapphire equilibrium cell which permits the visual observation of high-pressure phase behaviour. It has been useful in understanding the complex multiphase phenomena involved in miscible oil recovery schemes. Robinson served as president of this company from 1981 to 1990.

Over the years, the Gas Association in the US has been a significant sponsor of his research. Throughout his career, Robinson has continued the high traditions of Katz, his former mentor and friend. These were recognized when he became the second recipient of the GPA's Donald L. Katz award, for outstanding accomplishments in gas processing research and technology, and excellence in education. The Canadian Gas Processing Suppliers Association presented Robinson and Dr. Peng with the CGPSA Award for Innovative Excellence in 1989 for their achievement in developing the Peng-Robinson Equation of State.

Robinson's contribution to the Canadian Society of Chemical Engineering has been rather special. He had been a Director of the Chemical Engineering Division of the CIC in 1959, and was Chairman of the Division in 1965. He was one of a small group instrumental in bringing about the formation of the CSChE as a Constituent Society of the CIC. Robinson served as the first President of the newly formed society in 1966. Further contributions to the CSChE included being Chairman of both the 19th and 38th Canadian Chemical Engineering Conferences held in Edmonton in 1969 and 1988 respectively. He received the R.S. Jane Memorial Lecture Award in 1980.

The Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists recognized his outstanding achievements with its highest award, the Centennial Award, in 1981. The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta gave him a Professional Achievement Award in 1988.

Robinson and his wife Barbara have four daughters and 12 grandchildren. They both have a great appreciation of Canada's natural heritage as exemplified by their continuing active participation in bird watching, canoeing, mountain hiking, fishing and cross-country skiing.

F.D. Otto, FCIC Edmonton
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Title Annotation:awarded the Sir Frederick Haultain Prize by the Province of Alberta, Canada
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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