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Norbert Berkowitz (1924-2001)

Dr. Norbert Berkowitz, 1969A prominent Albertan research scientist, Norbert Berkowitz dedicated a great deal of his life to studying coal technology in conjunction with the Alberta Research Council (ARC) and the University of Alberta. The result was substantial advancement in the development of Alberta’s coal industry.

Born in Berlin in 1924, Berkowitz lived in Germany for the first 15 years of his life. With the onset of the Second World War, he and his family fled Nazi Germany for England. Norbert continued his education in London, culminating with a PhD in Petroleum Engineering from the University of London.

In 1952, Berkowitz moved to Edmonton with the sole purpose of joining the ARC, at that time called the Research Council of Alberta. Before long, Berkowitz was known as an expert in the field of coal technology and was appointed the director of the fuel sciences department. For years he directed the ARC in the development of new methods of extracting and refining coal.

Throughout his career, Berkowitz discovered and patented multiple inventions associated with coal technology. Perhaps the most revolutionary came to fruition in 1965, when the transportation of coal by pipeline was first successfully achieved. A 16-inch, 514-pound capsule of coal was pumped from Edmonton to Hardisty through a 20-inch crude oil trunk line, owned by Interprovincial Pipe Line Company Ltd.

By 1969, an anonymous Alberta company was exploring the possibility of investing $250,000 in the construction of an activated carbon plant near Edmonton or Calgary. The projected plant, employing Berkowitz’s process of converting coal into activated carbon, estimated it would produce approximately two million pounds of activated carbon and four million pounds of charcoal yearly.

Dr. Norbert Berkowitz, 1984 In the 1970s, Berkowitz and a team of geologists and engineers perfected in-situ mining, a process by which coal is transformed into a heat efficient gas by pumping steam into unmined coal seams.

Between the years of 1971 and 1983, Berkowitz served as a board member, and later the vice-chairman, of the Energy Resources Conservation Board of Alberta. After a long career with the ARC, Berkowitz moved to the University of Alberta in 1979 to teach in the Department of Mineral, Metallurgy and Petroleum Engineering. Here he specialized in coal and bitumen research until his retirement in 1988.

A prolific authority on the subject of coal, Berkowitz published multiple books and over 150 technical papers about new methods of extraction and refining. He received numerous accolades for his work, including a medal from the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy as well as membership in the Order of Canada in 1984.

Tragically, during the summer of 2001, upon returning to Edmonton from visiting one of their three children in British Columbia, Norbert Berkowitz and his wife Sheila lost control of their vehicle and slid off of the Yellowhead highway into the water below. Neither survived the accident.

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