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Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog

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At this year’s Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in Portland, OR, I had the opportunity to interview David Widawsky, Director of the Chemistry, Economics, and Sustainable Strategies Division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We discussed regulation, innovation, the future of green chemistry and much more.


Ashley: What is the EPA doing for green chemistry right now?


David: That’s a very open question, and we’re doing a lot of things. I think that recognition, as Jim Jones said during the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards (PGCCA) ceremony, is an important part of what we do to raise awareness. Our work to support the PGCCA occurs under our pollution prevention activities. Much of the work associated with the awards is voluntary; people aren't required to do it. It’s exciting that we have so many people that want to be involved with our green chemistry program.


Part of what we're doing in addition to raising awareness is trying to identify opportunities to educate the public, elected officials, public officials and industries in the opportunities around green chemistry. For example, we’ve done work to educate folks around safer coatings and materials: low VOC coatings, UV curable coatings, etc. Innovations in this area help reduce the amount of energy and volatizing chemicals that go into curing coating, and they help reduce the use of toxic chemicals in the processes. So, this is one example of sharing success stories in areas of activity in technology innovation, economic development, and research innovation that is exciting for us.


One of the things we’re trying to do more actively now is to identify pollution prevention /green chemistry as a solution for some of our regulatory challenges. One of the examples that I gave this morning to introduce the session we had on PGCCA winners was an example from Cytec Industries, a company that won an award in 2012 for replacing sulfuric acid in descaling processing pipes when processing alumina from bauxite. Huge amounts of spent sulfuric acid that were previously generated are no longer a liability for those bauxite processors. Permitting challenges, potential water quality issues, potential solid waste issues, waste management, etc. all might find solutions when the new process is used.


When we’re looking at ways to manage environmental challenges and meet regulatory requirements we’re trying to raise awareness and position green chemistry as a solution - a business solution - for environmental challenges. It’s not a mandate. When you meet regulatory needs, sometimes you serendipitously meet business needs. We're trying to do more with the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, and the Department of Commerce in terms of supporting small to medium-sized manufacturers by promoting green chemistry as a solution.


We’re trying to work more at the sector level, such as the food processing and automotive industries. We’re looking across the industry sector to ask, what is their chemical foot print? What is their process transformation footprint, and how can green chemistry be a solution? That’s another exciting part of what we’re doing. We have many different irons in the fire to amplify and leverage green chemistry to help facilitate adoption in the marketplace. As public servants we don’t represent any company, but we try to identify opportunities for businesses in this space. We have some resources at our disposal, and we try to get involved and participate in important conversations with procurement officials, investors, and supply chain managers. Our goal is to help make green chemistry part of normalized supply chains. So that’s a long answer to your short question.


Ashley: How do you think rewarding green chemistry through programs like the PGCCA compares to regulating companies?


David: Regulation is a key way that we protect human health and the environment. I appreciate the need for regulation - and we do need it. The same people in our office who manage the PGCCA have a huge role in managing and implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). They’re in that place that includes both regulation and EPA’s pollution prevention program, and there’s a complementarity there that we are trying to explore.


We’ve recognized some companies with green chemistry awards, and I had a couple of slides in my talk about the auto sector. I mentioned UV-curable coatings earlier. That’s basically developing coatings that can be cured with ultraviolet light instead of heat. When you cure things with heat - whether they’re primers or finished coatings or paint – you’re using a lot of energy. Many coating materials also contain volatile solvents, which may raise concerns. If you take those VOC’s out of the picture it can save companies money, and it can ameliorate or potentially obviate the need for a permit. People might still use coatings with VOCs if they capture the volatile organic carbons and don’t release them into the environment, but investing in that can take money and capital. Why do that when there are green chemistry options out there, that can save these companies money and that will help them to more easily meet regulatory requirements? These are green chemistry options, and that’s where I think the sweet spot is.


Ashley: So where do you think is the biggest challenge or bottleneck within a company is in becoming greener? Is it in R&D or is it more on the business side?


David: Without working this metaphor too hard, take the metaphor of a chain. There’s a lot of links in that chain. In some cases you may have strong links, but you also may have weak links. In some cases the R&D just isn't there. For example, in some cases people find it hard to get the same performance with non-fluorinated chemicals as they do with fluorinated chemicals - but folks are working hard on innovation in this space. On the other hand, some green chemistry processes have been around for thirty or forty years, but the price points don’t work for businesses or there’s an extremely complicated supply chain relationship. So it may be that changing one chemical or chemical transformation or materials transformation affects a whole lot of capital or capital expenditure.


One of the stories we heard about today was one of this year’s PGCCA winners. CB&I and Albemarle developed a solid catalyst system for making alkylate additives for gasoline (which helps gasoline meet environmental standards). However, in order for facilities to modify their plants to use this system there’s potentially a significant capital expenditure cost. It depends on the business and what they're doing. Sometimes, if it’s within a company, the decision to recapitalize their systems to be more efficient is possible depending on what payoff will be. If the price and the economics don't work they might not do it. The other problem is, even if you can recapitalize, how many months or years will it take to see the payback? In that case, the R&D might have become green before the business.cb&i.PNG


I think it sometimes has to do with the fact that it’s a business-to-business supply relationship. If a company is thinking adopting green chemistry the question may be: are they using green chemistry to produce the same product, or is there something about the product that changes? If something about the product changes, then they may have a lot of client relations that they have to pursue to get acceptance. They have to ensure the marketplace that they will deliver the same performance, timeliness and volume.


Supply chain and customer testing relationships can also be challenging. One of the examples that we've seen is amongst some recent PGCCA winners in the biofuels/renewable fuels spaces or that work on converting of things like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, or methane into fuels. In order to get those fuels accepted by the aerospace, car, and space industries there are a lot of tests and certifications that have to happen. That’s an expensive process. Trying to get the Department of Defense to test a new fuel in a hundred million dollar jet can be challenging. There are a lot of steps involved, and it’s an expensive proposition for small startup companies that can represent a pretty serious investment.


A fascinating example from the auto sector is one from Hyundai North America.  I heard a story two or three years ago at a meeting of the Suppliers Partnership for the Environment, an auto supply sector organization that the EPA helped launch.  Hyundai said they were looking for greener foam for their seats and headrests. Their seat supplier didn’t know how to produce it because they buy their foam from a foam manufacturer. There are multiple tiers to that supply chain. So Hyundai says they want this, and the seat supplier says I don’t know how to get that. The foam supplier eventually figured that they could change their business or lose out. That supply chain relationship took some complicated and delicate conversations, but eventually the seat manufacturer was able to source out much greener foam for their seats. That kind of industry involvement creates more awareness in the supply chains. Their willingness to go outside of what’s been done for decades and think about things a little differently was key to moving that forward.


We’re trying to figure out and learn more about supply-chain relationships. What are the sweet spots? What are the pressure points? What are the weak links in the chain? There may not be a federal assistance or recognition program that will fix every link, but the more we are aware of challenges the more effective we can be. If there’s something we can’t do, we can at least shine light on the issue and raise awareness about it. Otherwise, we work to identify opportunities and options to make a positive impact.


Among the many exciting things about being at this conference is all of the stories. Pretty much every company is experiencing some type of challenge, but each of these challenges presents an opportunity.


Ashley: If something like greener foams is a challenge for the automotive industry, why isn’t there more pre-competitive collaboration like what we have with the Pharmaceutical Roundtable?


David: In pharma, they’re all working in the precompetitive space so the idea of reducing the cost of say, oxidation, is a common good. No one is competing in that space. They’re all competing on their active ingredients for their drugs, which they’re obviously not sharing information about. But they know all these drugs need an oxidation reaction, and every company would be better off if they could do greener oxidations. It won’t throw off the competitive model.


I think the automotive and electronics industries are still trying to figure out where they can and can’t collaborate. Organizations that have credibility as supporting competition, supporting the American business model and have credibility in the environmental space could serve a really important role. We’re starting to see that in certain areas. A variety of non-governmental, non-profit organizations are trying to make those connections. There are some interesting stories out there, so we’re keeping our ears open.


Ashley: If we’re developing green chemistry solutions that are hard to implement here, do you think those solutions would be easier to implement in developing countries that don’t already have so much infrastructure?


David: Absolutely. There are some really exciting things going on in distributive models. One of the companies that was recognized last year with a PGCCA, Renmatix, is developing methods for using supercritical water for breaking down woody biomass. Jim Jones and I visited their pilot plant recently, and they’re looking at potentially building large plants near sources of woody biomass or potentially developing more modular systems. In these modular units, you have a potential feedstock that may be biobased, you have a system that can potentially be self-sustaining (like using lignin to power the plant), and you can make it small or large scale. There are some huge opportunities for companies using this kind of approach.


We heard today from Newlight, one of this year’s PGCCA winners, about converting methane to PHA and precursors for plastics. Their vision is to have production capabilities for this fitting on the back of a semi. These types of innovations provide opportunities for developing countries.


Hybrid Coating Technologies, a company that won an award in 2015 for their isocyanate-free resin coatings, may or may not, for example, manufacture in developing countries. But, as one of their partner companies said, when you go into an auto-supply or auto-repair shop you see large numbers of cautionary signs about the chemicals that they’re using.  Coatings may often contain a number of sensitizing compounds. Not using those chemicals means that people can avoid cumbersome and expensive personal protective equipment, sometimes called moon suits. Having lived in tropical countries myself, I can assure you that it could be very uncomfortable to wear a moon-suit to apply insulating foam, paints or coatings to vehicles in hot and humid locales, and the risk is that people won’t use them. The potential public health benefits of green chemistry in those countries could be massive, even larger, perhaps, than in the US.


Ashley: Where do you see green chemistry being in ten or fifteen years?


David: Hopefully everywhere! Sometimes I think we need to stop and look around. We’re surrounded by green chemistry opportunities.  Take textiles: the chairs we’re sitting on, the carpet under our feet, in our vehicles, our houses. Everywhere. The plastics that go into your phone cover, on our conference badges, adhesives. These are just a couple of areas where we’re seeing innovations in green chemistry.


Among the most exciting things is all of the fantastic basic chemistry research that’s happening because of green chemistry. There’s a lot of work going in to fine-tuning our chemistry knowledge which helps reduce the cost of production. Paul Chirik, one of the PGCCA winners this year, was talking about how when they started out it was really expensive to produce their earth-abundant metal catalysts. But through fine-tuning these activities they’ve been able to get those price-points down.


In five to ten years I’d like to see more of this everywhere. I’d like to see industry organizations on the supply side take a more active role in educating their members and member companies on the economic and business opportunities around green chemistry. We’re seeing this in pharmaceuticals. A huge amount of work has been done in pharma to reduce solvents, for example. The ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable has led a great example. We’ve seen a lot of interesting work in the auto supply sector through the Suppliers Partnership for the Environment organization that the EPA helped start. There’s also a lot going on in the food and electronics industries.


In five or ten years I’d like to see industry organizations showing companies that use materials or transform those materials, that their work can be an active opportunity to pull economically advantageous, business-oriented, wonderfully green innovations into the market. I think those industry organizations will be the strong voices. The EPA, the ACS GCI and other organizations can help initiate those conversations, but the industry organizations and the supply chains themselves will be the real pulls.




Photos by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Pete Myers on The Health Benefits of a Circular Economy (Watch)

August 22, 2016 | Circulate

Keeping materials cycling throughout the economy is good, right? Perhaps not, if you haven’t considered exactly what materials you’ve got re-entering the loop. Unfortunately, we don’t know all the substances contained in the products and built environment around us, or understand the health impacts that can occur as a result of the accumulation of certain chemicals.


Mold Might Be The Future Of Recycling For Rechargeable Batteries

news roundup 18.PNG

August 21, 2016 | Forbes

Today in Philadelphia, Jeffrey A. Cunningham of the University of South Florida described how he and his collaborators are studying how well fungi can recycle rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. At this point, the technology is at the proof-of-concept stage.


Companies Urged To Think Green When Designing New Catalysts for Shale Gas

August 19, 2016 | BNA

Constable spoke with Bloomberg BNA about a workshop report the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released Aug. 18. The report urged federal agencies and the private sector to conduct research in specific areas to improve catalysts.


The Plastics Revolution: How Chemists are Pushing Polymers to New Limits

August 17, 2016 | Nature

Polymers have infiltrated almost every aspect of modern life. Now researchers are working on next-generation forms.


Rethink How Chemical Hazards are Tested

August 16, 2016 | Nature

John C. Warner and Jennifer K. Ludwig propose three approaches that would help inventors to produce safer chemicals and products.


Green Chemistry: From the Bench Top to Industry, A Chemical Engineer’s Perspective

August 15, 2016 | The Green Chemistry Initiative Blog

As a chemist, do you ever think about how to scale up your chemical reactions, or your chemical processes?

For most of us, the answer is no. However, this idea of industrial scale is something that is constantly addressed in the Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry department. Consequently, the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry become fundamental to scale up a reaction from the bench top in a research lab to mass production in a chemical plant.


White Dog Labs Looks to Build Delaware's Next Chemical Giant

August 14, 2016 | Delaware Online

Acetone is not commonly thought of as an important or economically valuable chemical. Most people probably know it only for its usefulness in removing nail polish.




“The Nexus Blog” is a sister publication of “The Nexus” newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, please email gci@acs.org, or if you have an ACS ID, login to your email preferences and select “The Nexus” to subscribe.


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Contributed by David Constable, Ph.D., Director, ACS Green Chemistry Institute®


The pace of activities has thankfully slowed just a bit over the past month, although we are down another person with Ann Lee-Jeff’s departure to assume her role at Teva as a Sr. Director, Product Stewardship. I was sorry to see Ann go; she was an experienced hand and did a great job engaging with business. But I’m very happy that she found a Product Stewardship role and it’s a great career move for her. We are actively looking for a replacement and we have had some great applicants, so I’m looking forward to getting someone on-board to pick up where Ann left off.


I had the opportunity to attend the Gordon Conference on green chemistry a few weeks ago. The good news about that event is that most of the people in attendance were different than those in attendance when the Conference was in Hong Kong in 2014. I say this is good news because I’d like to think that green chemistry is becoming better known and accepted after 20 years or so, and seeing different people means more are thinking about green chemistry and engineering research and development. The conference is preceded by a symposium for students and there clearly were a significant number of students who were actively engaged throughout the Conference.


Since I’ve been the director of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute®, I’ve had the privilege of attending many green chemistry conferences and symposia, at international, national and regional meetings. What I’ve observed is that the alignment of research and development activities as presented in many of these symposia with the principles of green chemistry and engineering is not always very good — it’s more of a mix. Of course, if you take a longer view, the trend is that the degree of alignment is improving over time. Still, we have a way to go. This is a topic that I would hope to discuss more comprehensively at some point, but take this one quick example: hydrogen peroxide. Many people promote hydrogen peroxide as a green reagent without considering the life cycle environmental, safety, and health hazards associated with its production and use, so I would encourage you to read Ashley Baker’s article in this issue. We should include a systems, life cycle view in our consideration of what is “green,” regardless of whether or not the substance we are making is green or has a human benefit.


Yes, I see there has been progress in green chemistry and engineering, but there’s still a lot of opportunity for improvement.


Last week the Chemical Manufacturers Roundtable held another workshop for the AltSep technology roadmap for less energy-intensive separations. The workshop brought together another 34 outstanding researchers from industry and academia to map out research needs that would allow us to achieve a vision for the conceptual design of separation processes in the 21st century. Now comes the hard part of synthesizing the first 3 workshop outcomes and planning the remaining workshops to fill in the gaps.  This has been an exciting project and I am thrilled by the progress that has been made. Robert Giraud of Chemours and Amit Sehgal of Solvay continue to perform Yeoman’s work and I continue to be grateful and inspired by their commitment; this project would not have proceeded as quickly or as well without them driving it.


Work on the 2017 Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference continues apace. We are grateful for our Conference advisory committee and our program chairs’—David Leahy (BMS) and Amit Sehgal (Solvay)—work to date. We are looking forward to another outstanding conference next year and please don’t forget to respond to the Call for Symposia  which closes on October 7th.


These are just a few of the things that are on my mind at the moment and there is actually a lot more that is happening in green chemistry and engineering at the Institute and elsewhere, and that is surely a good thing.


As always, please do let me know what you think.





“The Nexus Blog” is a sister publication of “The Nexus” newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, please email gci@acs.org, or if you have an ACS ID, login to your email preferences and select “The Nexus” to subscribe.


To read other posts, go to Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog home.

A simple Google search of “green chemistry” and “hydrogen peroxide” will quickly display many links to the reported environmental benefits of using hydrogen peroxide in chemical reactions. From a winner of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge award in 1999 to more recent “green” chemistry lab experiments, a cursory glance will lead you to believe that hydrogen peroxide is a model reagent. This view has scarcely shifted in the more than twenty years of growth in the field of sustainable chemistry. But are the commonly touted benefits enough for this chemical to be considered “green”?


Hydrogen peroxide is known to produce water as an innocuous reaction byproduct, and it’s used as a safer alternative to chlorinated oxidants. But green chemistry is, in a large part, also about looking at the entire life cycle of a product, material or chemical. It’s evaluating even useful chemicals and asking if they’re ideal or if they can be improved upon. It’s therefore surprising that hydrogen peroxide is commonly cited as a “green” reagent – surprising for reasons like its associated safety concerns and unsustainable production process. Discussion of what makes something “green” – a reaction, product, feedstock, material or process – is at its core a discussion of metrics. How do we measure environmental, health and safety improvements? The challenges and perceptions of hydrogen peroxide beg the question: who determines what trade-offs are worthwhile, and which aren’t?


In 2005, a team of scientists from NASA and Honeywell assembled a historical review of “Hydrogen Peroxide Accidents and Incidents.” The report illustrates clearly that challenges arise when the concentration of hydrogen peroxide is raised for lab or industrial applications to 30% or more - ten times higher than what you’d use to disinfect a cut.


In addition to being a strong oxidant and corrosive, upon interaction with some organic compounds hydrogen peroxide can transform into an explosive ingredient. This is exactly what happened in Helena, Montana in 1989 when a runaway train collided with another train and derailed. Over 26,000 gallons of 70% hydrogen peroxide spilled and reacted with spilled isopropyl alcohol and ground contaminants. Windows at nearby Carroll College were blown out by the fire and explosions that ultimately resulted in the evacuation of 3,500 residents and six million dollars of clean up and repairs. The very qualities that make hydrogen peroxide a highly effective bleaching agent for the textile and paper industries are the same that pose a risk to safety.


Of course, there’s no need to panic about hydrogen peroxide in your medicine cabinet. The IARC and Public Health England are just two of many organizations that don’t consider hydrogen peroxide to be a carcinogen in humans, and most hydrogen peroxide that you buy at the store is likely only three to six percent concentrated. Just as hydrochloric acid in your stomach is different from the 6 molar HCl under the hood, you can imagine that these differences in concentration command very different considerations.


That said, hydrogen peroxide at these higher concentrations is hazardous to human health and the environment. It’s corrosive to metal, skin and eyes and is acutely toxic. In a 2014 press release about sun screen the American Chemical Society noted that, “high amounts of hydrogen peroxide can harm phytoplankton, the microscopic algae that feed everything from small fish to shrimp to whales.” It’s in the second-highest health hazard category for both humans and for long-term harm to aquatic life. It’s not hard to imagine that its production, transportation, storage and application on a large, industrial scale would pose problems.


Hydrogen peroxide expands, sometimes dangerously, when heated or boiled, meaning that even stationary storage or processes like distillation can become dangerous.  There are numerous accounts of leaking drums or slightly contaminated hydrogen peroxide causing explosions as a result of its high reactivity. This can be dangerous even on small, laboratory scales. In 1957 at Rocky Flats, for example, radioactive plutonium was released into a lab because hydrogen peroxide was exposed to minor impurities. Traces of iron, copper and nickel initiated a catalytic reaction in a glove box, pressurizing the box until the radioactive materials were ejected outwards.  More recently in 2010, Chemical and Engineering News reported that a mixture of hydrogen peroxide (35%) and acetic anhydride resulted in an explosion at Northwestern University, seriously injuring a chemist.


There are many more accounts of lab incidents – sometimes fatal ones - resulting from hydrogen peroxide use that could illustrate this point: it’s not that hydrogen peroxide should never be used, but that its reputation among green chemists as being harmless deserves more scrutiny. Hydrogen peroxide has, in many cases, served society well; it’s used to treat drinking water, remove stains, produce pharmaceuticals, and as a disinfectant in homes and hospitals.


This brings us to the actual production processes used to make hydrogen peroxide. The challenges with this chemical go beyond storage, use, and transportation. Because green chemists must use systems thinking – looking at the big picture, from the time a material is extracted from the earth through its manufacture and ultimate disposal – it’s key to look at how chemicals are made.


Hydrogen peroxide is produced almost exclusively using the anthraquinone process. The very first step in its manufacture, as described by the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry, poses problems for the chemist trying to be “green.” To begin with, a palladium catalyst is called for to carry out the initial hydrogenation. Palladium is well-known to be a critical material: difficult to extract and expensive to obtain while being an inherently finite resource. The social and environmental impacts of extracting materials like platinum group metals (PGMs) can be devastating, and market stability is unreliable with an estimated 88% of the world’s PGM supply being located in South Africa. There is huge water and energy consumption associated with PGM mining, and it produces greenhouse gases and difficult to handle solid waste streams.  On top of that, we’ve previously explored the challenges around most industrially produced hydrogen, particularly the fact that it’s almost exclusively sourced from non-renewables.


And this is just the first of four main steps.  Additional steps require a non-polar solvent like benzene – a human carcinogen - to dissolve the anthraquinone that’s been produced, followed by additional solvents to dissolve even more quinone byproducts that result from that reaction.


With hydrogen peroxide being one of the world’s top 100 most important chemicals, it’s extremely unlikely we’ll see a reduction in its use anytime soon. What if we could at least produce hydrogen peroxide in a green and sustainable way? This is an opportunity for innovation that would serve nearly every facet of industrial chemistry. Researchers are developing routes to produce hydrogen peroxide directly to be more step-economic. These include via noble-metal catalysis, fuel cells and plasma methods. While none of these methods are perfect – for example, continued use of palladium – it’s a step in the right direction in achieving more efficient, greener production. Headwaters Technology Innovation Group, for example, earned a 2007 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award based on their less energy-intensive, direct synthesis of hydrogen peroxide, but it relied on the use of palladium-platinum nanocatalysts. This method has the added benefits of producing higher yields at a lower cost although the process has not been taken to large scale. In China, researchers have likewise worked to develop a palladium-catalyzed but more efficient, less hazardous synthesis of hydrogen peroxide. Even in this team’s conclusion they state that there is still much work to do, and that “the most promising technology in the future will be direct synthesis of hydrogen peroxide from hydrogen and oxygen without using anthraquinone as the reaction carrier.”


So where does this leave chemists? It’s our duty as scientists to keep asking how we can improve – for the environment, for our health - the processes and materials around us. Time and time again, serendipity and perseverance have proven that anything can be achieved through chemistry. Surely, there is a sustainable, safe method of producing hydrogen peroxide or an entirely new reagent that will allow the chemical transformations that are considered dependent on it to occur.


This is yet another opportunity for chemists and chemical engineers to design greener chemicals, chemistries, and processes that enable a more sustainable future. While hydrogen peroxide has its advantages, we can and should do better. Are you up to this challenge of pursuing greener options at each stage of production and use not just for hydrogen peroxide, but across all of chemistry?



“The Nexus Blog” is a sister publication of “The Nexus” newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, please email gci@acs.org, or if you have an ACS ID, login to your email preferences and select “The Nexus” to subscribe.


To read other posts, go to Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog home.

At this year’s GC&E conference, I had the chance to interview Shawn Hunter, Global EH&S Product Sustainability Leader for Building and Construction at the Dow Chemical Company. Here, read our discussion about Dow’s sustainability initiatives, successful interdisciplinary efforts, and prospects for the future of chemistry.



Ashley: How is green chemistry involved in what you do at Dow?


Shawn: In my role I am responsible for product stewardship and sustainability for Dow’s Building & Construction (B&C) business group. What that means is integrating sustainability and product stewardship into business strategy, which entails making sure our products are safe for their intended uses and compliant with regulations, as well as coordinating B&C sustainability activities and setting our B&C sustainability goals. Green chemistry fits into that in a big way because we spend a lot of time looking at new materials, new substances, and new ideas.  It’s part of our whole innovation process.


At Dow, we have a 2025 Sustainability Goal around Delivering Breakthrough Innovation. We have a defined stage-gate process for developing new technology, and part of that process includes an emphasis on green chemistry. We want to have an understanding around the EH&S aspects of the substances we are dealing with and of the new products that we are designing. Then, we look at what it takes for that specific new idea or new innovation project to be successful in the market. Green chemistry fits directly into that.


Another 2025 Sustainability Goal related to green chemistry is our Increasing Confidence in Chemical Technology goal. This goal seeks to broaden the conversation on the perceptions of chemical technology, and build stakeholder confidence in the safe use of chemical technology to address our sustainability challenges. Green chemistry is front and center in the work that we are doing on this goal related to value chain outreach, collaboration, and product transparency.


A: Since this year’s conference is themed around “design,” can you speak to how Dow works to design products to be safe throughout the whole life cycle?


S: Our Product Stewardship organization implements Dow’s product commitment to Responsible Care®, which is our commitment to develop products that can be made and used safely throughout the life cycle. It begins with characterizing the risks of our products by first assessing the hazards of the materials that we’re considering using, and proceeds considering the end-use application of the product where we look at the potential for exposure. Here we rely heavily on our Dow toxicologists; we are lucky to have a world-class toxicologist group available to help, sometimes just by walking to the office next door. And they are providing more and more predictive toxicology tools and capabilities so we can incorporate that information even sooner in our innovation process. We make decisions around which chemistries or technologies to pursue based on a number of factors, which include the safety of the materials used in the application.


A good example of the way that we think about this is demonstrated by Dow BLUEDGE™ Polymeric Flame Retardant Technology. Development of this technology was very green chemistry inspired, as the focus was on developing a low-hazard solution to an industry challenge. A number of years ago the polystyrene foam insulation industry was using a flame retardant, HBCD (Hexabromocyclododecane), which has been classified as a PBT (persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic) and a Stockholm POP (persistent organic pollutant).


There was a clear need in the market for a replacement for HBCD. We took that as a challenge to ask, “How we can as Dow—with our innovation and chemical and toxicological expertise—come up with a replacement for HBCD in order to fit in this application and be commercially successful?”


Of course if you are replacing a PBT compound, you need to have a non-PBT substance as the replacement. Something that has a really good toxicity profile would be even better. And of course it needs to perform—flame retardants have a critical function in the safety of the end use product. So we started with a huge list of over a hundred compounds and went through a tiered process to find what worked. First we screened out candidates based on a predictive toxicology. Once we got rid of those with red flags we moved to the next tier and started to do testing for things like PBT properties, acute toxicity, or mutagenicity. These are well-defined steps that we use to rule out candidates at an early stage and progress to the next. This tiered approach, which allowed us to optimize the time and effort needed to find the solution, was a smart way of thinking about the innovation process to help us find a successful polymeric solution to the challenge in the market.


A: This being the 10th time that Dow has won the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, how do you think the processes have improved over time and what are the greatest challenges of implementing them?


S: I’m really excited that Dow has reached number ten with the Instinct® nitrogen stabilizer. I was at the award ceremony on Monday before the GC&E Conference, and that was pretty cool to see. When I think of our 2025 Sustainability Goals, we really have set big, bold aspirational goals. We’re talking about things like, how do we help lead a blueprint that allows us to transition to a sustainable society? As a society we are not necessarily at a sustainable place today, but we need to get there in the future. At Dow, we know we have a role to play by helping guide and enable that transition. When you look at the role that green chemistry can play, it’s all about the innovation opportunity.  As we continue to have these aspirational goals, one challenge might be to really comprehend just how significant our work can be toward defining a sustainable tomorrow.  But the opportunity and potential are there, and we have a lot of folks that are really excited about this across the globe, working on new technologies, and I hope that these 10 awards are just the beginning!


A: You mentioned that you work with a number of toxicologists. Do you have interdisciplinary teams of chemists and toxicologists or do your chemists have toxicology training?


S: I think that the issue of how to incorporate the toxicology knowledge with the chemistry knowledge is super important. I really like the idea that Paul Anastas mentioned in his Keynote address about these merging over time. You absolutely need to have both.  I again feel very lucky that at DOW we can pull together these cross-disciplinary teams to solve problems. We’re not turning our chemists into toxicologists, but they’re learning a lot from our tox experts, and are applying that tox knowledge in their own thinking as they design new products. Going back to the polymeric flame retardant example, we pulled together a range of people to help address this challenge, which meant that innovation chemists, process chemists, product chemists, toxicologists, manufacturing guys, commercial guys, and sales and marketing folks were all a part of this huge effort. You certainly cannot bring a green chemistry technology from ideation to implementation by yourself in a lab. Having a collaborative nature and getting external stakeholder feedback helps to guide a solution to success.


A: Does Dow have its own metrics for green chemistry?


S: Dow is a very metrics oriented company - that’s what happens when you have a company of chemists and engineers. If you look at Dow’s 2025 Sustainability Goals, there are a whole lot of metrics within them.  We have seven high-level goals; each of those goals contain additional metrics.


So from the 2025 innovation goal we then have, for example, a metric about delivering an R&D portfolio that has a 6:1 benefit to burden ratio from a life cycle perspective. This helps us strive for new solutions that bring energy and climate change benefits to the market. Improved food packaging, for example, might take a little bit of energy or carbon investment to make, but can save the embedded carbon or energy in the food. You are spending a little CO2, to save a lot of CO2 in the end.  That sort of benefit-to-burden ratio is seen as a life cycle investment.


A: Finally, do you have any thoughts about the conference or your experience so far or any thoughts on where Dow is going to go with green chemistry?


S: The conference this year is outstanding. There are so many important conversations going on in terms of breaking down silos and making sure that the right folks are talking to each other. The point you brought up about our toxicologists talking to our chemists, well I just came from a session where it was really focused on that whole idea.  Some of the talks were on how we make tox-type tools readily available to chemists.These types of conversations are key in advancing green chemistry.


Of course, Anastas’ talk was inspiring as always as we think about the future. What’s also great about this conference is that you have a group of folks who really understand the potential of chemistry to help us get to that sustainable place. If we want to get to that world where we have 8-10 billion people that are living well globally and living within the limits of the planet, chemistry - green chemistry - is going to be a key part of that transition.


There are a lot of great ideas floating around. Many of them tie into the notion of the sustainability goals at Dow and the blueprint that we need to transition to a sustainable society.  It’s really exciting to see all of these innovations coming down the road, and I’m looking forward to what the next 25 years of green chemistry will bring.




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Contributed by Dr. Karen Goodwin, Professor, Centralia College


In July of this year, I had the opportunity to be a first-time attendee at the Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, held in Portland, Oregon. Now in its 20th year, this is the first time the conference was held on the west coast. As a professor at a small community college in Washington state, the fact that this conference was held close to home was one of the primary factors that allowed me to attend.


The three-day event was packed with technical sessions, spanning education, research, synthesis, business, and industry. This variety made it easy to find talks that were of interest, and brought together chemists and engineers from every corner of our field. The social events provided many opportunities for networking, and because of the wide variety of attendees, the conversations were fascinating. For me, talking with colleagues about what is going on at the front lines of chemistry and engineering gave me real-life examples to use in my classrooms. It was also gratifying to be able to talk about chemistry education, and to hear the perspective of the people that will be interviewing and hiring my students in the future.


There were several technical sessions that focused on green chemistry in education. At my institution, I instruct both general and organic chemistry, so I was pleased to find talks that included curriculum for both of these courses. One of the sessions, led by Jane Wissinger, focused specifically on education resources involving polymers and plastics. Having a session such as this, with talks on a specific common theme, allowed attendees to hear from speakers at a variety of institutions. This diversity assured that no matter what the restrictions of your individual laboratory, there was certain to be an experiment or lesson that you could put immediately into your curriculum. Another session, Design of State of the Art GC Curricula, led by Jim Hutchison, focused on infusing green chemistry into chemistry programs. Starting with an overview of the Green Chemistry Education Roadmap by Jim, the talks focused on the approaches that are being taken at a variety of schools around the country, and provided specific resources to help curriculum designers in planning their own courses. The final session I attended was the Design of Curricular Materials - Rapid Fire session, again led by Jane Wissinger. I had the opportunity to present in this session, and as this was my first time presenting at a major conference, the rapid fire format was perfect for me. By having each speaker limited to 10 minutes, attendees were able to hear more talks, and to be presented with very specific lessons and labs that are being used right now in classrooms around the country. Each of these sessions were well attended, and being able to share ideas and teaching philosophies with educators from so many different institutions was an amazing experience.


The final event of the conference was a Pub Crawl, which was new to this conference. The event broke up attendees into groups with similar interests (educators, industrial chemists, etc.) and provided a nearby pub location for each. The groups, each with a leader to facilitate conversation, walked to the pub and spent the next few hours networking and sharing ideas. The off-site locations made for a more relaxed atmosphere than can usually be achieved at a conference location, and was just a very laid-back way to end the day before heading home. It was nice to be able to explore some of the city of Portland, while still being able to get in a final visit with new-found colleagues.


I came away from this experience with a renewed energy, and so many ideas for further improvement of my green chemistry curriculum. I strongly encourage any educator considering implementing green chemistry into their courses to attend this conference in the future—whether you are already a part of the green chemistry community, or just want to find out more, there will be something of interest to you. The passion for relevant and high-quality instruction was evident in all the talks that I attended in the education track.  Overall, the green chemistry “crowd” is very welcoming—it was evident that there were many years of camaraderie among most of the participants, but this first-time attendee was welcomed in with open arms. I am hopeful that the success of the event will mean that it is held on the west coast again!




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Contributed By Ed Brush, Professor of Chemistry and Coordinator of Project GreenLab, Bridgewater State University


The vision statement of the American Chemical Society reads, “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.” Chemistry has inarguably provided numerous contributions to humanity, however, we also need to be aware of the unintended consequences of chemicals on human and environmental health. Hazardous chemicals are disproportionally impacting children and adults in low income, minority neighborhoods, while the presence of naturally-occurring and human-made chemicals restrict access to clean air and water. This violates our definition of social and environmental justice where all people, regardless of race or economic status, have the right to live, work, play and learn in healthy, safe environments.


“Green chemists” share a set of common principles that guide us in making smart choices in how we design, make, use and dispose of chemicals and chemical products.  Green chemistry has the potential to offer solutions to help correct many of these disparities. This perspective was shared by over 75 attendees at the 20th Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Portland this past June, who participated in a symposium on green chemistry and the social and environmental (in)justice of chemical exposure. The purpose of this unique symposium was to bring together, for the first time, a multidisciplinary group of participants to begin exploring and understanding the racial and socioeconomic disparities in how hazardous chemicals impact society.Ed Brush Graphic.png


The symposium began with a brief overview to set the perspective that included contributions from attendees who shared their views on the disproportionate exposure of chemicals on society. The tone for the symposium was set by Mary Kirchhoff, Director of ACS Education Division, who gave an excellent overview in her talk on “Chemistry in a Social Justice Context”. Mary nicely defined social justice from a historical perspective, as well as the EPA’s roadmap to integrate environmental justice into its programs, policies, and activities.  Additional contributors to the symposium were Annelle Mendez, Michael Cann, Ed Brush and Olga Krel. When considering the breakthrough technologies recognized through the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge awards, many of these have made significant contributions to cleaner air and water, and the safer design and use of chemicals and chemical products. It is implicit that green chemistry = social and environmental justice, and fully complements the dynamic ACS Mission Statement, “to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.”


All those interested in continuing this discussion are encouraged to submit contributions to the Nexus Newsletter and Blog. Contributors are also invited to join in a proposed session on green chemistry and issues of social/environmental justice during the symposium on “Green Chemistry Theory & Practice” at the ACS meeting in San Francisco in April 2017, and at the 21st Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Reston, VA in June 2017.




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What Chemicals are in Your Tattoo?

August 15, 2016 | C&EN

European regulators worry about the inks used to make body decorations, which can be repurposed from the car paint, plastics, and textile dye industries.


How Lego Rebuilt Itself as a Purposeful and Sustainable Brand

August 11, 2016 | Forbes

Flashback to the 1960s when plastics were the future and companies proudly advertised “Better living through chemistry.” It was obviously a different time with different understandings and attitudes towards petrochemicals.


news roundup 17.PNG

New Catalyst Offers a Route to Cost-Effective Biobased, Biodegradable Plastics

August 11, 2016 | Plastics Today

While biodegradable plastics derived from renewable sources are nothing new, affordable degradable bioplastics that can equal the performance of petroleum plastics, are far and few between. Now, all that seems set to change.


Revolutionary Computer Program Could Change Chemistry Forever

August 10, 2016 | RSC

"The internet is the only comparable network in existence," says Bartosz Grzybowski from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea. He is talking about Chematica – a computer network mapping millions of molecules and reactions in the known chemical universe.


Yikes! I Just Increased My Platinum Footprint

August 8, 2016 | Sustainable Manufacturer Network

Who knew contact lenses could cause such angst? Mark Jones ponders his platinum footprint after purchasing a new type of cleaning system for his contact lenses.


Another Brick in the Molecule

August 5, 2016 | Rice University

Rice University chemical engineers explore market for pure levoglucosan.


Cornell Scientists Convert Carbon Dioxide, Create Electricity

August 4, 2016 | Cornell

While the human race will always leave its carbon footprint on the Earth, it must continue to find ways to lessen the impact of its fossil fuel consumption.


Wooden Surfboards to Mushroom Handplanes: The Surf Companies Tackling Ocean Waste

August 2, 2016 | The Guardian

Ocean waste is a serious problem for companies emotionally and physically connected to the sea, said the founder of outdoor clothing company Finisterre in a recent Guardian debate, but that connection also gives them a strong incentive to find solutions. Here we profile some of the companies doing just that.


Going Green with Biocatalysis

August 2, 2016 | PharmTech

Enzymatic catalysis offers pharma manufacturers a way to implement the Principles of Green Chemistry.


The Ultimate Beauty Luxury? Non-Toxic Color that Restores Your Pre-Gray Hair

July 31, 2016 | Forbes

When I arrived at Hairprint headquarters in Sausalito a year ago, I was greeted by author and environmentalist Paul Hawken, and Philippa Shenandoah, a hair stylist I’d worked with on photo shoots. Hawken stared at my head: your hair is colored? “Yes, highlighted,” I said. “Is it a problem?”




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Contributed by Dr. Julie Haack, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Oregon


Walking into the innovation hub at 942 Olive is like walking into another world. The rough open interior looks more like a hip modern design studio than a university building. The mix of open work areas and exhibition spaces surrounding digital and analog prototyping labs with materials characterization capabilities stirs the imagination. This is the home for a bold new program that brings together artists, designers, chemists and entrepreneurs to create and launch world changing products and businesses. The goal is to create an intellectual maker space that aspires to be the birthplace and launch pad for the next generation of green businesses.


Highlighting innovation, partnerships, and sustainability, the University of Oregon (UO) sponsored hub currently houses three core groups, the UO Product Design Launch Lab, the Eugene branch of the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network (RAIN) and the Tyler Invention Greenhouse. The 12,800-squarefoot facility is designed to expose and celebrate the “process of making” used by designers, chemists and entrepreneurs so that it can become part of a creative ecosystem that is accessible to a broader community. Opportunities to house “experts in residence” will catalyze the infusion of new ideas and strategies into the growing interdisciplinary community.


Successful inventors constantly engage in activities that build knowledge and experience around solving problems. Opportunities for students to participate in these kinds of activities are often limited to short, one-off experiences like those associated with a specific course or an annual competition. The Tyler Invention Greenhouse, in collaboration with the Product Design programs and RAIN, provides an alternative approach by creating opportunities for continuous engagement, where the tools of green chemistry and life cycle thinking are infused throughout the creative process.



The Tyler Invention Greenhouse builds upon the UO’s strengths in sustainability, green chemistry, design and innovation to accelerate the development and enhance market success for greener products. Some of the most expensive and frustrating failures occur when our products or processes unintentionally have an adverse impact human health and the environment. By integrating the knowledge and experience of a diverse community of creative individuals, at the point of invention, and addressing these challenges in a systematic way, one has the potential to significantly improve the success and accelerate the adoption of sustainable products into the market.


Another member of the hub, Oregon RAIN provides training, advisory services and networking support to early growth stage companies. Currently there are nine companies participating in an intensive 16-week training program that attracts a robust community of mentors and local entrepreneurs into the space to share their experience and provide advice and connections. Add to that mix a vibrant, creative community of local artists and UO design students who share a passion for sustainability and you have the opportunity to connect design and innovation to the science of sustainability.


On any given day the place is alive with conversation. During a single visit to the facility you can engage with graduate students in STEM disciplines working through Lens of the Market SM curriculum that provides a rapid introduction to the vocabulary, skills and tools for scientists to evaluate the market potential of their research. Alternatively you can help students refine their product ideas and prototypes by participating in an interdisciplinary design critique with students and faculty from across campus. These types of interactions not only build skills around innovation and product design but they also provide a unique environment for professional development.


Built in the heart of downtown Eugene, the facility strengthens the cluster of creative industries and technology initiatives within the downtown core. The hub at 942 Olive provides a foundation for a holistic and integrated approach to sustainability that celebrates collaboration and inclusion and invests in the education and training of this community so that it can actively design a more sustainable future. In addition to connecting to the city, the hub is a conduit to the region and the world and participants are actively seeking external collaborators. Please contact Julie Haack if you are interested in adding your perspective and experience to the mix.


The three million dollar project was funded through a combination of funds from the Oregon state legislature, the University of Oregon and the Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust. For more information on 942 Olive, visit the UO's Innovate website.




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Why did Walmart Take the Unusual Step to Tackle Chemicals?

July 29, 2016 | Environmental Defense Fund


Walmart recently announced progress on its groundbreaking Sustainable Chemistry Policy, a 2013 plan that set the stage for some 700 suppliers to rethink how they make more than 90,000 home and personal care products.


Kavli Fellow Travels to Indonesia news roundup 22-29.PNG

July 28, 2016 | San Diego State University


If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the spiders that Greg Holland encounters must feel very flattered indeed. The San Diego State University assistant professor of analytical chemistry studies the molecular structure of spiders’ silk and how they spin it.


Carbon XPrize Ams to Reimagine CO2

July 28, 2016 | Gizmag


A total of 47 entries from seven countries are set to take part in a competition aimed at finding new ways to convert carbon dioxide into valuable products. The NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize will award US$20 million in prizes to the teams that develop the best breakthrough technologies for "reimagining CO2."


Broad Consortium Scales Up Production of Bio-Aromatics From Waste

July 28, 2016 | Recycling Portal


Turning waste, that would otherwise be incinerated or end up in landfill, into valuable raw materials for the chemical industry is the challenge being undertaken by a consortium of 12 companies over the next 18 months. Biodegradable waste, nappies, compost and sieving material from wastewater will be converted to aromatic compounds, such as those used in the production of plastics.


What's Next for Green Chemistry? Join The Guardian for this One-Day Event

July 27, 2016 | The Guardian


In a year punctuated by toxic chemistry crises – including the Flint River scandal and large-scale water pollution in upstate New York – green chemistry offers an increasingly relevant route toward a healthier, more sustainable society. The Guardian Green Chemistry Conference will explore the green chemistry advances that are improving our world, and the innovative partnerships and funding tools that are making them possible.


How do Pesticides Protect Crops?

July 27, 2016 | Science Daily


New research could lead to the fine-tuning of pesticide formulations to further increase crop yield. The findings also show a way to develop advanced performance formulations which will interact reversibly with plant surfaces and will leave their protective cuticles unharmed. They are now using the model at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's ISIS Neutron and Muon Source research facility to study how surfactants, a key component in pesticide formulations, interact with the leaf surface to get into the plant and take effect.


Dandelions, The Scourge of Lawns, May be a Fount of Rubber

July 25, 2016 | C&EN


In Katrina Cornish’s test fields, weed control is a big issue. Weeds are a problem for most farmers, but it’s an ironic one for the Ohio State University researcher, since she’s growing dandelions. Cornish and her group at Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences are growing a special variety of dandelion from Kazakhstan known by the scientific name Taraxacum kok-saghyz.


Four Costa Rican Scientists' Excellent Adventure

July 25, 2016 | The Tico Times


Like the country’s national soccer teams, this Sele is a group of the most talented young people from around the country who have gained international recognition, jetted off to Europe and arrived as welcomed guests. And yet there is not a soccer ball in sight when this team gets together: these all-stars kick around ideas instead.




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Creation of Evertree, A New International Actor in Renewable Chemistry

July 20, 2016 | Bio Based


Evertree offers plant-based alternatives to traditional VOC-emitting chemicals found in these products.  The first application will target the wood composite panel industry and will help to reduce or even remove the presence of, and exposure to, formaldehyde.


Researchers Study Whether Renewable Is Always Betternews roundup 17-22.PNG

July 19, 2016 | 4 Traders


Making plastics from plants is a growing trend. It's renewable, but is it better?  A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers examines the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of three plant-based plastics at each stage of production compared with that of their common fossil fuel-based counterparts.


School’s Out but Learning Continues in Yale Summer Programs for New Haven Students

July 19, 2016 | Yale News


This summer, as in years past, hundreds of New Haven students are participating in summer programs hosted by Yale in science, medicine, arts, and humanities. Claudia Merson, director of public school partnerships at the university’s Office of New Haven & State Affairs, said Yale is committed to using its resources to provide opportunities for local New Haven students.


Grinding Chemicals Together in an Effort to be Greener

July 18, 2016 | New York Times


The timer started, and a middle school student named Tony Mack began his first chemistry experiment. As he weighed chemicals under a graduate student’s supervision, his father, James, a chemist at the University of Cincinnati, assembled glassware next to him, engrossed in his own experiment.


Students Attend Summer School For Green Chemistry

July 18, 2016 | C&EN


The annual ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy took place on June 21–28 at Colorado School of Mines, in Golden, Colo. The program engaged 54 graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from the U.S., Canada, and Latin America in a week of lectures, poster presentations, and problem-solving activities.


California Unveils Its First Green Chemistry Regulations for Children’s Foam-Padded Sleeping Products with Fire Retardants

July 18, 2016 | Lexology


Following up on the breakthrough amendments to the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), California has reasserted its intention to proceed with its Green Chemistry Initiative to require substitution of safer chemicals in consumer products. On July 15, 2016, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) released its first proposed “Priority Products List” regulations under the California Safer Consumer Products (SCP) Program.




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During the GC&E conference in June, we had a chance to catch up with Rick Glover, a chemistry teacher at Bellevue College in Washington State. In an interview, he discussed how he gets community college students into the lab and engaged in real-world sustainability challenges.


Q: How were you introduced to green chemistry?


A: I started off my academic career as an environmental scientist, and I saw that the regulation of pollutants worked sort of like a snake eating its tail. If we just try to regulate, monitor and pull out harmful chemicals as we find them in the environment, we’re inherently missing the opportunity to design safer chemicals. Using that approach, we’ll never be able to catch up to all the problems created.  I wanted to get on the front end of that, and it’s what drove me toward green chemistry. I wanted to better understand the materials we produce and their impacts on and fate in the environment.


There have been a couple of talks at the GC&E conference on persistent organic pollutants, and the problems we face on trying to clean those out of our water are pretty crazy. In my opinion, approaches to these problems have to be more holistic.


A lot of my work at my community college has pivoted toward getting students I teach into the lab, rather than on research I started previously. I’ve tried to address questions like, how do you get students to understand the real processes involved in science? And, how do you get students to really gain an understanding of where chemicals will end up in the environment?



Q: What have you found most beneficial in getting students involved in green chemistry?


A: It’s great to get students involved through topics that they’ve either seen in the media or can relate to in their everyday lives. For one of our projects last term, some students were trying to find micro-plastics in sea salts. There was an ACS paper that came out last November that discussed finding these plastics, so it was captivating for the students. They could look at the same roadblocks discussed in the paper and say, okay, we think we’ve found these but how can we reasonably assess that this is what we’ve found? There was another student whose family eats a lot of rice, and she was using the ICP-MS to analyze the amounts of arsenic in different commercially available rice products since rice is one of those products that happens to bio-accumulate arsenic. So it’s really beneficial to get projects that students are interested in and that affect their daily lives.


Another project that a student has run with is around the effects of neonicotinoids on honey bee populations, which is a huge and broad topic. I’ve been really excited about his progress. He took this project initially thinking he could address many parts of this issue, but he’s realizing that much of science is addressing in incremental steps what you can do to help solve a larger problem. Learning to isolate something out of an environmental matrix is very difficult, but instead of shying away from this challenge he’s volunteering to come back this summer to continue to work on this project. It has led him to work on developing new research-based undergraduate labs so that a broader swath of the undergraduates can experience what real research is rather than “cookbook” chemistry.


Q: When you have students looking at these environmental impacts do you discuss preventing these problems and designing to avoid them?


A: Not as much of that comes on the research side, but rather on the teaching side. We discuss, for example, some of the problems in our region around Puget Sound. One of the big issues is ocean acidification and its impact on the local shellfisheries. A discussion we always have is, okay, why do we have this problem? Well, one of the obvious answers is that we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Then we move to, okay, if we’re not burning fossil fuels then from where are we going to get the energy? We discuss CO2 being in a thermodynamic sink and needing some way to get out of there. It’s nice to be able to show students that it requires a fundamental chemical understanding of these problems to solve them.


Q: How do you think incorporating green chemistry into a community college is different than in a four-year college?


A: The amount of time that I have to do research is minimal. It’s not really built into my load, so I’ve developed a class that allows me to teach research to undergraduate students. It’s open-access, so anybody can come into that class. It’s different from the model of hand-picking students for research because I’ve found that sometimes students who don’t excel at coursework do excel at research. Because there’s no right answer, it’s not always the book-smart students who are the best researchers. We hope they build the ability to address the question: what can be done with both good and bad data? Sometimes we sacrifice the time it takes to get research results in exchange for the ability to teach students about a method.


Q: Do you have any input on the conference so far? What brought you here?


A: The conference has been really exciting. I’m looking forward to the educational talks to help me bring in new labs and concepts into my teaching. I spent some time this morning in the carbon dioxide catalysis session because it’s something I’ve been interested in, so it’s really cool that there are so many different topics we can learn about here as well as reinforcing the mainstays of green chemistry.




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The ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable gave out two distinguished awards during the 20th Annual GC&E Conference in Portland, Oregon this past June.


Peter Dunn, recently retired from Pfizer, was recognized for his years of dedicated service to the implementation of green chemistry and engineering  through the Roundtable and within the global pharmaceutical industry. The Roundtable presented him with a “Green Chemistry & Engineering Impact in Industry” award.


Dunn was a founding member and former cochair of the Roundtable where he helped initiate the research grant program, supported the growth of the Roundtable and was  one of the  lead authors of the formative Green Chemistry article ‘Key green chemistry research areas—a perspective from pharmaceutical manufacturers’, which has received  over 435 citations to date since it was published in in 2007. Later Dunn served on the editorial board of Green Chemistry and highlighted green chemistry research by coauthoring 13 of the Roundtable’s popular ‘Green Chemistry Articles of Interest’. Dunn held the industry’s first “green chemistry” position at Pfizer and developed an environmentally-friendly commercial process for making Viagra, among other scientific achievements.


DSC_4448b.jpgPete Dunn posing with members of the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable.
Left to Right: John Wong, Pfizer; Juan Colberg, Pfizer; Sa V. Ho, Pfizer; John Tucker, Amgen; Pete Dunn, Barry Dillon, AstraZeneca; Daniel Richter, Pfizer.



Professor Charles Liotta, Georgia Tech, was recognized by the Roundtable for his life-long dedication to research and education. Liotta is a recognized leader in physical-organic and polymer chemistry; he is perhaps best known for his breakthrough discoveries and seminal books on phase transfer catalysis.


He has served for nine years as the Vice Provost for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies, and has headed the Institute for Sustainable Technology and Development. In 2014 Liotta earned Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Georgia Tech.  Liotta’s awards are numerous including a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award with colleague Dr. Charles Eckert in 2004. More recently, Liotta earned an ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable Research Grant in 2012 and since then and has presented the research results at several invited symposia. The Roundtable presented Liotta a Lifetime Achievement Award.


Liotta Award Group Shot.jpg

Prof. Liotta receives his award.
Left to right: Barry Dillon, AstraZeneca; John Tucker, Amgen; Charles Liotta, Georgia Tech; Mike Kopach, Eli Lilly.



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When I last wrote, we were gearing up for the 20th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, I mentioned the LAUNCH Big Think and the HESI workshop on Alternatives Assessment; it seems like years ago.  While I had hoped to write something last month about just how awesome the GC&E Conference was, I simply did not have the time. The Conference week was a blur, starting with the student workshop on Monday and ending with the Green Chemistry Education Roadmap workshop on Saturday. That Sunday, I went to Colorado for the Summer School on Sustainable Energy and Green Chemistry and that was followed by a trip to Alaska to speak at the ACS Northwest Regional meeting. I managed to squeeze in a little down time in Alaska before our Separation Alternatives to Distillation workshop held last week in Maryland, and it has certainly been a challenge to keep all these initiatives going. In case you didn’t know it, the ACS GCI staff is incredible and I’m amazed and grateful for how the team has continued to deliver on all these events and initiatives!


IMG_8857.jpgThe 20th Annual GC&E was, in my opinion, a resounding success. The conference had 534 registrants and that is a record over the 20-year history of the conference. There were, as there inevitably are, a few blips, but none of those rose to the level of anything more than a temporary inconvenience thanks to the timely intervention the ACS GCI team. Thanks to the program and session chairs, the technical programming was outstanding and all the extra events throughout the week ensured that a high level of energy, enthusiasm and engagement was maintained.  I’d like to say once again that we owe a debt of gratitude to all the volunteers and the tireless efforts of the ACS GCI team that made this conference such a success. We are looking to build on the success of this year as we develop our 2017 conference around green chemistry and engineering in making or manufacturing things; stay tuned but be sure to participate in the call for symposia that is now open.


The Education Roadmap Workshop brought together about 25 educators and industrial participants for an intensive 1 and half day workshop. It was a bit daunting to hold this workshop the same week as the GC&E Conference, but the workshop succeeded in expanding and focusing the work that was started in the Fall Visioning workshop. Participants were asked to think about what kinds of skills and competencies chemists should have when they graduate with a degree in chemistry.  As a result of engaging with a wide diversity of educators and industry people, we are rethinking and reframing some of the thoughts that came out of the Visioning Workshop. It is clear that this is a process and a long-term initiative and we are grateful for the strong commitment we obtained from the workshop participants to see this initiative through its next steps.  I’ll have more to say about this effort in the future, so stay tuned.


The ACS Summer School on Sustainable Energy and Green Chemistry is always a high point of the summer. Dr. Mary Kirchhoff assembles a great line-up of faculty to speak and the students are always fully engaged with some challenging content. There was an abundance of applicants to the school this year and Mary certainly was challenged in choosing those who ultimately attend.  This is an event that participants talk about and remain connected with each other for years as a result of being there.  Thankfully, many past participants have continued to be active in green chemistry and engineering. We are very grateful to the Petroleum Research Fund for supporting this work over many years, and to the Colorado School of Mines for being such great hosts.


I was grateful for the opportunity to speak at the ACS Northwest Regional Meeting. Alaska is a very different state compared to the lower 48, and a place of incomparable beauty.  I was there shortly after the summer solstice, so seeing light for the better part of 24 hours was certainly strange.  There were a collection of interesting sessions and it was a great opportunity to hear about the unique chemistry and chemical processes that occur in the environment at extremely low temperatures and northern latitudes; not something I’m usually exposed to and speaks to the diversity of chemistry that is all part of the ACS.


The ACS GCI Chemical Manufacturers Roundtable has been working very hard on the AltSep technology roadmap; a roadmap for separation alternatives to distillation.  The workshop held last week brought together about 34 outstanding people, predominantly academic, to discuss research needs that will allow us to exploit different molecular properties for separating complex mixtures. Distillation is such an entrenched, robust and well-understood separation technology that is difficult to imagine using other separation approaches that can compete on cost and performance. The Achilles heel of distillation is, of course, energy, and in that there is considerable opportunity.  We look forward to a third workshop in about three weeks that will further expand the roadmap into process simulation and design.  Like the education roadmap effort, this effort lays the groundwork for what are hopefully some truly transformational outcomes.



Overall, I’m very excited and energized by these activities and how they are progressing.  I hope we might continue to engage an ever-widening circle of chemists and engineers to move these initiatives forward.  Please do think about how you might get involved; we need everyone to be a part to succeed. As always, please do let me know what you think.





“The Nexus Blog” is a sister publication of “The Nexus” newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, please email gci@acs.org, or if you have an ACS ID, login to your email preferences and select “The Nexus” to subscribe.


To read other posts, go to Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog home.

Contributed by Dr. Mary Kirchhoff, Director, ACS Education Division


PORTLAND, Ore.—Before the ubiquitous cell phone came on the scene, people used physical road maps to figure out how to drive from Point A to Point B. The road atlas of the U.S. was our constant companion during a family vacation driving from Silver Spring, Maryland to Yellowstone National Park in 1994. Road maps remain valuable tools (especially those accessible from your phone) when traveling, but the term “road map” has a second meaning according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: A plan for achieving a goal.


The ACS Green Chemistry Institute® (ACS GCI) began exploring the creation of a Green Chemistry Education Roadmap in 2012, and efforts focused on achieving this goal have accelerated over the past four years. A survey of faculty was conducted in 2015 to assess current chemistry teaching practices, the importance of teaching select green chemistry concepts and barriers to curriculum changes. Over 500 faculty responded to the survey, 84 percent of whom noted that it is essential for students to understand chemical hazards and exposure, including identifying environmental, safety and health hazards, and selecting and designing chemicals that are less hazardous alternatives to known chemical and products. Seventy percent of the respondents indicated that an overcrowded curriculum was the biggest barrier to teaching green chemistry concepts, which indicates the need to integrate green chemistry concepts and practices into the existing curriculum.


In September 2015, a visioning workshop brought together key stakeholders to articulate a vision for the roadmap and identify the future state that will be achieved through the roadmap. The vision for the roadmap that emerged from the workshop was “Chemistry education that equips and inspires chemists to help solve the grand challenges of sustainability.” Discussions during the workshop focused on the current state of chemistry education and the steps needed to achieve the vision, at which point all chemistry will be green.


This discussion laid the foundation for a draft set of green chemistry core competencies, which were developed following the visioning workshop.  The four draft competencies embody the knowledge, skills, and abilities that a chemistry or chemical engineering graduate should possess:


  1. Graduates will be able to design and/or select chemicals that improve product and sustainability (societal/human, environmental and economic) performance from a life cycle perspective.
  2. Graduates will be able to design and/or select chemical processes that are highly efficient, that take advantage of alternative feedstocks, and that do so while generating the least amount of waste.
  3. Graduates will understand how chemicals can be used/integrated into products to achieve the best benefit to customers while minimizing life cycle sustainability impacts.
  4. Graduates will be able to think about and make decisions taking into account life cycle thinking and systems analysis.


These competencies provided the framework for the roadmapping workshop held in Portland, Oregon in June 2016.  An expanded group of stakeholders identified a set of core elements that underpin each competency. For example, in order to achieve competency three, students need to understand integrated product design; understand product impact, function, and performance; and understand and apply life cycle thinking. Workshop participants further analyzed these core elements and proposed knowledge objectives embedded within the core elements. Continuing with competency three to illustrate this approach, some knowledge objectives include understanding how to start with function and design; realizing that customer desires can lead to many product concepts; and understanding the basis of formulation.


A critical insight during the workshop was that the overarching competency that distinguishes this roadmap from the way chemistry is currently taught is systems thinking, which may serve as the anchoring concept in reforming chemistry education to help solve the grand challenges of sustainability. Workshop participants also noted that changes in the curriculum should be accompanied by changes in pedagogy.


The roadmapping workshop advanced the development of the roadmap itself, and much work lies ahead to fully develop this strategy. Ongoing and future activities include creating an inventory of available resources; communicating roadmap progress at conferences; designing professional development opportunities; and facilitating collaborations between chemistry and chemical engineering departments.


A critical component in developing the roadmap is community engagement, and we invite you to share your thoughts and ideas at gci@acs.org




“The Nexus Blog” is a sister publication of “The Nexus” newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, please email gci@acs.org, or if you have an ACS ID, login to your email preferences and select “The Nexus” to subscribe.


To read other posts, go to Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog home.

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