Written by Mary Dillon
Photos by Paige Nesbit
Xingbo Liu, professor and associate chair for research in mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University, was named the Statler Endowed Faculty Chair in Engineering, effective July 1, 2018.
Liu leads the Electrochemical Systems Research Center at WVU and has done extensive research in solving various energy problems through electrochemical applications including fuel cells, sensors and batteries. He envisions expanding ESRC’s efforts in the area of natural gas utilization, focusing on its conversion to electricity, chemicals and fuels.
“Our lab has experience with electrochemical conversion of natural gas via solid oxide fuel cells, as well as combustion systems for electricity generation and jet propulsion focusing on corrosion and metal fatigue, which complements current natural gas research programs in the College,” said Liu. “The goal of our collective approaches is to develop advanced technologies to take full advantage of the region’s abundant shale reserves.”
Liu noted that work currently being done in ESRC is done in collaboration with private-sector partners, U.S. national laboratories and university-based researchers from around the world.
“This extensive network of collaborators and leaders in the field ensures that our research is on course for meeting real-world needs,” said Liu. “The network also provides opportunities for WVU graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to meet leaders in the field and transition to careers in places where they will have the power to change the world.
“It is truly an honor to be named to this endowed position, which carries Mr. (Benjamin) Statler’s name,” Liu added. “I hope that a clear vision combined with research expertise, the ability to develop successful collaborations and the ability to identify funding opportunities will allow the shale gas utilization efforts at WVU to flourish.”
A Fellow of ASM International, Liu has received numerous awards, such as the R&D 100 Award (2011); the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society Early Career Faculty Fellow Award (2010); and the Statler College’s Researcher of the Year (2015, 2012), Outstanding Researcher awards (2015, 2011, 2009, 2008) and New Researcher of the Year (2015). He joined the faculty at WVU as a postdoctoral fellow in 2000, after earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in materials science from the University of Science and Technology in Beijing, China.
After a national search, Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College said Liu was identified as the ideal candidate for this endowed chair in an effort to expand the University’s expertise in the area of natural gas utilization
“Besides use of natural gas for heating homes and electricity production, this valuable source can be used for making chemical feedstocks for transportation systems,” Cilento said. “It is the expectation that Dr. Liu will develop collaborations with researchers across campus in this important endeavor.”
The professorship was made possible by the $45 million gift made to WVU in 2012 by Ben and Jo Statler. A third-generation coal miner, Ben Statler received his bachelor’s degree in mining engineering from WVU in 1973. While attending WVU, he began his career at CONSOL Energy, working as a laborer. For 30 years, he held various positions at CONSOL Energy before starting his own mining company, PinnOak Resources LLC. Statler served as president and CEO of PinnOak until he sold the company in 2007. Currently, Statler is co-founder and CEO of Gulf Coast Capital Partners.
Jo Statler, who worked for WVU’s School of Dentistry, has been a strong supporter of her community and WVU. She helped launch Bonnie’s Bus, which provides digital mammography services to women in remote areas of West Virginia. The bus is named in memory of her mother, Bonnie Wells Wilson, who died of breast cancer.
Over the years, the Statlers have supported many WVU initiatives, including programs at WVU’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center; the Erickson Alumni Center; the Basketball Practice Facility and other Athletic-related capital improvements. The direct impact of their lifetime of support to WVU is nearly $60 million.