November 11, 2009

Top honours for Alcoa engineer

One of Western Australia’s most well-known engineering honours has been awarded to David White of Alcoa’s global refining research and development team.

Mr White, a Principal Research Engineer with Alcoa’s Technology Delivery Group (TDG), has received the annual Don Watts Award - presented by Curtin University’s School of Chemical Engineering.  This award honours a Curtin chemical engineering graduate for their contribution to the profession.  Mr White was nominated by fellow graduates.

As a graduate chemical engineer, Mr White began his career at Alcoa in 1980 in the research and development team (R&D).  After leaving Alcoa in 1989, he took up a chemical engineering lecturing position at Curtin, teaching some 700 students – many who went on to work for Alcoa.

In 1991, Mr White completed a Master of Engineering in Precipitation Modelling at Curtin, and in 2003 he returned to Alcoa’s TDG.

At the awards ceremony recently, it was recognised that Mr White had contributed to the career development of hundreds of young graduates, some of whom were in attendance on the night to see him accept the award. 

In acceptance, Mr White reflected on the privilege of teaching the engineers of tomorrow and also working with many of them after graduation. 

“I feel incredibly blessed that I’ve not only had a rewarding career in industry, but I’ve also gained much enjoyment from teaching engineering students,” he said.

Throughout his career, Mr White has contributed to the development of a number of sophisticated process models, which help to increase the efficiency and productivity of the alumina refining process. While at Curtin, Mr White continued his relationship with Alcoa, maintaining the company’s computer model for the precipitation process, which he designed in the early 80s. Today, this important design tool is use across the Alcoa system globally, with more than 60 engineers trained to use it.

In 2007, Mr White was made a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), with which he’s a qualified assessor of chemical engineering programs in universities and industry. 

“When I worked for Alcoa in the 1980s, R&D was a small group focussed only on the three Western Australian refineries.  When I returned to Alcoa in 2003, R&D had been transformed to become the Technology Delivery Group, with 80 staff and a global focus,” Mr White said.

“Due to the many projects in progress, often a fusion of ideas from different projects leads to serendipitous discoveries in new areas.

“TDG is well aware of the positive contribution that it has on the success of Alcoa, and is enthusiastic in developing new technologies to take the business into the future – it’s a fantastic team.”

Alcoa’s Director for R&D Global Refining, Dr Ian Harrison said: “I am very pleased that David has been honoured by receiving the Don Watts award.  Curtin University trained engineers make a great contribution to Alcoa’s global research and development effort and we encourage them to participate in the broader engineering community.  David’s award is great recognition of his contribution to his profession.”

Since 1968, TDG has been developing innovative new equipment and processes for cleaner, more efficient production at Alcoa refineries worldwide, and consistently helps to solve environmental challenges through new technology. TDG has the largest number of PhD’s working together in WA outside of a university or CSIRO.


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