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Highlight Seminar: Perspectives on Separating Possible vs. Practical Sustainable Solutions for Energy and Materials

Date: March 31, 2022

Time: 12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Location: Maeder Hall Auditorium and Virtual over Zoom

Perspectives on Separating Possible vs. Practical Sustainable Solutions for Energy and Materials

William Banholzer

Research Professor, Honorary Fellow Chemistry Department, Sr. Advisor Wisconsin Energy Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison


The world aspires for sources of energy and chemical feedstocks that are 100% sustainable in adequate amounts to support a high standard of living for all.  Current energies policies intending to accelerate the transition to renewable source will restrict supply and inevitably drive up, not only the price of energy, but food and a most other goods.  Energy can be challenging to grasp.  KWh and BTU’s are less familiar than units of mass or volume. This combined with a desire for quick solutions can result in overly optimistic predictions. Even worse some proposals often neglect fundamental engineering limitations and the rational for why high energy density fuels dominate our current systems. Energy is a regulated, commercial enterprise which must produce a return for investors. Yet the popular literature is full of statements such as “electricity will be free”. Engineers are critical in debunking the rhetoric. Which new pathways and technologies will emerge to transform the energy infrastructure? While many technologies are possible, far fewer are practical. This talk will review several examples including carbon capture using NaOH, biofuels, and green hydrogen/ammonia where fundamental engineering or financial considerations were ignored to illustrate how mass and energy balances can be used as a compass to guide society. It will also review how sustainability can have competing priorities complicating optimum solutions.


In the fall of 2013, Banholzer joined the University of Wisconsin following a 30-year career in industrial research.  At UW Banholzer has appointments in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department, Chemistry Department, and the Wisconsin Energy Institute. At UW his interest is to develop unique teaching materials focus on education about industrial chemistry. He retired from Dow Chemical where he was an Executive Vice President leading Dow’s Venture Capital, New Business Development, Licensing activities, and served as Dow’s Chief Technology Officer. In addition, he served as a member of the Board of Directors for the Dow Corning Corporation, chairing the Corporate Responsibility Committee. Banholzer also served on the Dow AgroScience’s Members Committee, Dow Kokam, and the Dow Foundation Board of Directors.

In addition to his work at UW, Banholzer is a member of the Board of Directors for Jeldwen, WilsonartComposite Panel Systems, and Pyran. In his previous position, Banholzer managed a portfolio of research programs with an annual budget of $1.7B.  He set and executed the vision for science and technology at Dow. Under his leadership, the value of Dow’s innovation pipeline tripled from $10B to over $32B.  Banholzer’s efforts to accelerate Dow’s technology development were recognized by R&D Magazine, where Dow was ranked in the top ten for R&D in all industries, and a Booz Allen study ranked Dow’s innovation portfolio management as “Best in Class.” Thomson Reuters recognized Dow for three years in a row as one of the top 100 Innovators. Banholzer received the Industrial Research Institute’s Holland Award for R&D management, the Council of Chemical Research’s Pruitt Award for his innovative approach to research collaborations, the ACS Earl B. Barnes Award, AIChE’s Founder and Agile awards, NAE’s Bueche Award, the University of Illinois LAS Alumni Achievement Award, University of Illinois CBE Distinguished Alumni Award and has presented numerous invited lectures around the world. While at Dow Banholzer initiated a $250 MM university research collaboration and championed the Dow Safety Academy to help improve university safety which was recognized with the 2013 Chemical Engineering and ChemInnovations Award. Banholzer has a strong history of technical excellence and innovation, spanning his more than 30 years of industrial experience. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering in 2002. In 2006 he was elected by the Academy membership to serve a 3-year term as one of 12 councilors comprising the governing body of the NAE.

Banholzer had a 22-year career with General Electric Company (GE) prior to joining Dow. He left GE as vice president of Global Technology at GE Advanced Materials, where he was responsible for worldwide technology and engineering. He joined GE in 1983 as a staff chemical engineer in the company’s Corporate Research and Development Laboratory where he held several leadership positions prior to joining the Superabrasive business. Banholzer was elected a company officer and moved to GE Lighting as vice president of Global Engineering in 1997. He transferred to GE’s Advanced Materials business as the vice president of global technology in 1999.  During his GE career, Banholzer was honored with GE’s Bronze, Silver, and Gold Patent Awards; GE Superabrasives’ Leadership Award; GE Plastics’ CEO Six Sigma Award; and election to the Whitney Gallery of Technical Achievers.

Banholzer earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Marquette University and master’s and doctorate degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois. He is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, holds 16 U.S. patents, and has over 90 publications, which have received 2,300 citations with an H index of 27 for his work in engineering and chemistry.

This seminar is open to the public, but please register for this event. The seminar will be held at Maeder Hall Auditorium at 92 Olden Street and virtually over Zoom. Lunch will be provided at 12:00 p.m. noon in the auditorium lobby.