Luttrell's nomination was based on his advancement of separation technologies for the mineral and coal industries, pioneering new fields of technology in the environmentally clean processing of mined materials. These technologies allow the mining industry to now recover much of the valuable materials that have previously gone to waste due to the lack of appropriate separation technologies.
Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.
Luttrell has 18 patents, many of which are in commercial use. His patents address three important industrial problems in mining: fine particle flotation, coarse particle flotation, and fine particle dewatering. Recently, Luttrell developed a very useful computer program for optimizing mineral and coal processing plants.
"As a result of his inventions, the minerals and coal processing industry can recover both fine and coarse particles in flotation plants," said his colleague Roe-Hoan Yoon, a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech who is also in the National Academy of Engineering.
"Dr. Luttrell is considered to be 'Mr. Coal Prep' industry, partly due to his series of short articles in a trade magazine related to daily engineering practices," Yoon added. "He is one of the best process engineers that I have known. His skills in analyzing complex engineering systems and in designing reactors and separators are outstanding."
Luttrell co-invented the Microcel column flotation technology with Yoon. This technology is rapidly becoming the industry standard, and is one of the best-selling flotation columns today. The BHPB-Mitsui Alliance, the largest coal company in Australia, is now using the Microcel technology for all of its new plants. Other major companies using it include: Teck Cominco, BHP Billiton, and Kennecott.
Luttrell's HydroFloat coarse particle flotation system is used commercially in the phosphate and potash industries, while his StackCell fine particle flotation system is now being applied within the coal and industrial minerals industies. In addition, he played a critical role in commercializing the hyperbaric centrifuge technology that is being marketed successfully by Decanter, the largest centrifuge company in the U.S.
Most recently, Luttrell has developed a computer program that can be used to optimize the design of minerals and coal processing plants.
In 2012 alone, Luttrell conducted over 25 workshops, training more than 750 coal preparation plant operators and engineers in state-of-the-art plant practices. "His work contributed to the generation of more than $30 million [per year in revenue] as a result of improved plant operations," said Greg Adel, department head of mining and minerals engineering at Virginia Tech.
Among Luttrell's other honors he received the 2012 Robert H. Richards award from the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration for the "significant global impact of his scientific contributions and engineering excellence for teaching, research, scholarly activity, and professional service in mineral and coal processing."
Luttrell received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in mining and minerals engineering from Virginia Tech in 1980, in 1982, and in 1986, respectively.