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Roe-Hoan Yoon

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 27 - April 6, 1995

During his more than 16 years at Virginia Tech, Roe-Hoan Yoon has built one of the largest university-based coal and minerals processing research groups in the country and established an international reputation. Yoon will be awarded the 1995 Alumni Award for Research Excellence "for his work in fundamental research for bubble-particle interactions, which led to the development and commercialization of the microbubble floatation process."

The Nicholas T. Camacia professor of mining and mineral engineering since 1985, Yoon has been director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Minerals Processing at Virginia Tech since 1988. He has received many patents for his work, but is best known for development of the Microcel' flotation technology, developed with colleagues Gerald H. Luttrell and Gregory T. Adel.

The process uses microbubbles in a water-filled flotation column to separate mineral impurities from coal. It is particularly effective in cleaning very fine coal, smaller than grains of sand, that are too small to be cleaned by conventional processes and, as a result, are often discarded.

Developed in a joint program with the U.S. Department of Energy in the 1980s, the Microcel' technology is now used at commercial coal-cleaning installations in several states. Internationally, the Peak Downs Mine in Australia has just signed a contract to install 16 Microcel' units, the largest number at one site anywhere in the world. Yoon gave a series of lectures to different groups of engineers in the coal fields in Australia last summer, which may have helped market the technology in that country. The People's Republic of China, the country with the world's largest production, just purchased six Microcel' units. Agreements are in place for coal cleaning plants in India and Poland as well.

Although the technology was developed originally for coal, the technology is also being used for processing different minerals.

While the technology is successful commercially. Yoon is most excited about his involvement in basic research. "We are the first to develop a mathematical model for bubble-particle interaction from first principles," he reports. As a result of many publications on this topic, his contributions are recognized in the community of colloid chemists. He is scheduled to deliver an invited lecture this spring at the EUCHEM Conference on Surface Forces in Science and Technology.

Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Patricia Fry Godley said, "Virginia Tech has established a track record of excellence in developing innovative approaches for improving coal's environmental acceptability."

Yoon earned his bachelor's degree from Seoul National University in mining engineering. His master's and doctoral degrees are from McGill University, Canada, where he concentrated in mineral processing. "I enjoy working in this area of mineral technology because it gives me an ample opportunity to work in related basic research," he says.

He was a research scientist at the Canada Center for Mineral and Energy Technology before coming to Virginia Tech in 1978. To date, he has written more than 200 technical publications, and made numerous presentations at national and international meetings, including seven plenary lectures at international meetings.