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Columbia Missourian

UPDATE: Inventor and retired MU professor Henry Liu died in crash Tuesday

By Ilene Davis, Katie Maupin
December 2, 2009 | 3:07 p.m. CST
Dr. Henry Liu displays a brick he created by compressing fly-ash from coal fired power plants. The bricks earned one of 10 2007 Invention Awards from Popular Science and was named one of the best environmental inventions of 2007 by Time Magazine. Liu died in the one-vehicle accident Tuesday afternoon off the Lake of the Woods Exit on Interstate 70.

COLUMBIA — The man killed in a single-vehicle crash on Interstate 70 Tuesday was a Columbia engineer and a retired MU professor known for his work in "green" technologies.

Henry Liu, 73, was traveling westbound near mile marker 129.6 when his 2003 Toyota SUV veered off the road striking two trees before coming to rest 200 feet off the road.

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When Boone County Fire Protection District firefighters arrived at about 1:45 p.m., the vehicle was fully engulfed in flames. It took responders 10 minutes to extinguish the blaze.

The vehicle was completely destroyed by the fire, and the front end sustained the most damage in the crash.

Liu was pronounced dead at the scene.

Boone County Deputy Medical Examiner Ariel Goldschmidt said Liu died from injuries received during the crash. The cause of the crash is still unknown, according to the Columbia Police Department.

After earning a Ph.D. from Colorado State University, Liu worked as an MU civil engineering professor for more than 20 years. While at MU, he directed the Capsule Pipeline Research Center, which is funded by the National Science Foundation to develop capsule pipeline technology to transport freight.

“Henry was a model professor. He cared about teaching and did a good job teaching,” said Mark Virkler, chairman of the MU Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and a former associate of Liu. “He had a very inquisitive mind and was quite ready to take knowledge from one field of engineering and apply it to another."

Virkler said Liu's academic background was in fluid mechanics and that his research led him to look at pipelines being used to transfer solids instead of only fluids.

In 2001, Liu founded Freight Pipeline Co., where he continued to be president.

Liu was awarded the $100,000 Purpose Prize award in October 2009 for developing environmentally-friendly bricks from fly ash — a toxic byproduct of burning coal. This production method is more efficient and does not contribute to air pollution.

"He was in the process of making the world a better place with his inventions," said Carla Roberts, Liu's administrative assistant at Freight Pipeline Co. "We plan to continue the projects that he has in motion now."

The final decisions rest with his family, she said.

Liu held or co-held five patents related to capsule pipelines and one related to combustion safety, according to his company's Web site. He also published more than 100 technical papers and two books.

"He is a hard man to describe because he was so complex. Basically, he is a man of great honor and he had a tremendous work ethic," Roberts said. "We all mourn his loss and will try to honor his legacy."