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Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog

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By Christiana Briddell, Sr. Communications Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute, and featuring Yalinu Poya, Ph.D. student at the University of Glasgow.


When you start to scratch the surface of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first thing that becomes apparent is that they are often interconnected and have synergistic relationships. A world without hunger is the ideal of Goal #2. This goal alone reaches beyond agriculture practices and touches social and financial systems, land development trends, equality and access issues; grapples with the threats from climate change (to which agriculture also contributes); and impacts the health of land, air, and water.


The key, however, to ending hunger has to be in developing a comprehensive, fundamentally sustainable food production system that is resilient to the effects of climate change, maintains and promotes biodiversity, water and land management practices, and can be applied by the small-scale farmers that make up the 40-85% of food production in many parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa.


Currently, the U.N. estimates that 1 in 9 people in the world are undernourished, a number that has risen over the last three years rather than declined. In Africa, 20% of the population is considered undernourished, but even in wealthy countries like the United States, food insecurity affects 11% of the population.


There are many areas related to Goal #2 that are relevant to chemists. Increasing agricultural production and fighting pests has been the focus of agricultural scientists for decades. New technology-assisted farming promises a smarter approach to fertilizer application, crop protection management, and water management.


Innovations such as Dow AgroSciences LLC’s Instinct Technology, (which won a Green Chemistry Challenge Award in 2016), helps reduce nitrogen pollution from fertilizer runoff by making the nitrogen in fertilizer applications more available to crops and slower to degrade into unusable forms.


Phosphorus, like nitrogen, is essential for plant growth and one of the main ingredients in fertilizer, but phosphorus will become increasingly difficult to mine in the future, with peak production estimated to hit between 10-60 years from now. Currently, most phosphorus that is not absorbed by plants, runs off into water bodies where it contributes to eutrophication. Research is needed to find ways to recover and recycle phosphorus from sewage treatment plants using low-energy, highly-efficient separations.


Alternative pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are more environmentally friendly are another area of ongoing research and development. Biopesticides, derived from microorganisms that naturally attack crop pests and diseases, have been explored for a variety of applications. For example, Agraquest, Inc. (now Bayer CropScience) was an early Green Chemistry Challenge Winner for their biofungicide Serenade, which makes use of a naturally occurring bacteria. Companies like Marrone Bio Innovations have developed a number of bio-based solutions derived from microorganisms and plant extracts.


Genetic resilience is important to this goal, with a focus on preserving the genetic diversity of crop species for the future. Finding varieties and modifying genes in order to develop qualities such as drought resistance may be an important tool as some regions dry out. In other regions, there will be a need for salt-resistant crops, or protection from molds and fungus, and in all cases, increased yields.


Improving the Sustainability of Nitrogen Production through Catalysis


One of the biggest challenges to making the modern agricultural system more sustainable is the energy demands of a reaction at its heart—the Haber-Bosch Process for the production of ammonia. I asked Yalinu Poya, originally from Papua New Guinea, and currently a Ph.D. student in Prof. Justin Hargreaves research group at the University of Glasgow, U.K., to share her approach to this issue:


Picture 1: Sourced from

Catalysis is continuously making great contributions towards improving, or in some cases, resolving some of the world’s most common and demanding challenges that we continue to face. My specialty is in heterogeneous catalysis with my Ph.D. research focusing on synthesizing catalysts for ammonia production in the Haber–Bosch Process. The Haber–Bosch Process is a mature technology developed in the early 20th Century, however there are many currently pressing challenges to make it more sustainable. By addressing its catalyst component through my research, I believe many of the problems associated with the process can be solved, or my research could contribute to a greater solution.


The Haber–Bosch Process, which was developed in the early 1900’s, was a landmark achievement of the 20th Century. Currently, the process produces over 174 million tonnes of ammonia annually, establishing an accessible route for the production of over 450 million tonnes of synthetic fertilizer. In itself, this sustains food production for 40% of the global population.


The Haber–Bosch Process involves combining pure H2 and N2 feedstreams directly over a promoted iron catalyst at temperatures of around 400°C and reaction pressures of over 100 atmospheres. The reaction is exothermic and is equilibrium limited, thus it is thermodynamically favoured at lower reaction temperatures. Despite this, the temperature of operation is dictated by the requirement to achieve acceptable process kinetics.


Due to the reaction conditions involved in the process at a global scale, including the generation of feedstock, the operation of the Haber–Bosch Process currently consumes 1-2% of the world’s energy demand and produces 1.6% of man-made CO2 emissions. To reduce these harmful effects and yield massive rewards both in terms of economic and environmental benefits, there is great interest in the development of small-scale local ammonia production plants based on renewable hydrogen generated from water via electrolysis and powered by sustainable electricity sources such as wind energy. In such a context, which would facilitate the production of ammonia on a localized scale close to its point of use such as on a farm, it is necessary to develop novel ammonia synthesis catalysts which are active under less severe operational conditions appropriate to smaller scale reactors.


It is notable that a number of active ammonia synthesis catalysts are comprised of cobalt in addition to other active metals – a combination of cobalt and rhenium as a bimetallic catalyst shows high ammonia synthesis activity. Despite its low surface area, cobalt rhenium is an active catalyst in ammonia synthesis, however a more highly dispersed catalytic phase can be obtained by application of a suitable catalyst support. It can be anticipated that this would lead to enhanced catalytic performance.


The United Nations has designed and implemented 17 Sustainable Development Goals specifically to make the world a better place by facilitating a sustainable future for everyone. It is estimated that the world population will reach 9.1 billion by the year 2050, consequently food production will need to rise by 70% to keep up with global demands. Farmers will require more fertilizers to maintain fertile soil in order to produce healthy crops, which will result in an increased demand in the production of fertilizers. Since ammonia is the main component in fertilizers, it too will need to increase in production in order to fulfill Goal 2–Zero Hunger.


Picture: Sourced from

By David Constable, Science Director, ACS Green Chemistry Institute


In 2013, members of the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute (ACS GCI) Chemical Manufacturers Roundtable (ChMRT), conceived a project to identify how to fundamentally change the way separations technologies are applied in the chemical processing industries. The Roundtable formed a collaborative partnership with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and received funding from a NIST AmTech grant, to make this project, the Road Map to Accelerate Industrial Adoption of Less-Energy Intensive Alternative Separations (AltSep), a reality.  The initiative was led by ACS GCI ChMRT members, Robert Giraud of Chemours and Amit Sehgal of Solvay, with assistance from David Sullivan of Kraton Industries and Samy Ponusammy of MilliporeSigma. Today, the ACS GCI released the project’s final report, which is considered a key step forward in advancing the rational design and predictable, widespread, industrial application of less energy-intensive separations processes as alternatives to distillation.


The implementation of alternative separations technologies, as identified in the AltSep report, has the potential to transform the competitiveness and sustainability of the global chemistry enterprise.  Conventional fluid separations account for over 33% of the energy use and over 50% of the capital investment of chemical plants. Despite the cost of these conventional systems, the technology infrastructure changes needed to facilitate industrial availability of less energy-intensive alternative separations processes are so fundamental and significant that they are far beyond the resources of one, or even a small group of companies. The AltSep team recognized early on that a cross-cutting, integrated approach to identifying and prioritizing research, development and demonstration projects would be needed to solve technical challenges, and these challenges were best met by starting at the molecular level.    


To enable cost-effective, energy-efficient, fluid separations, the Road Map suggests that beginning with a molecular property-based framework for the selection, simulation and design of industrial separations processes could lead to:


  • Reduction of substantial energy use and the associated greenhouse gas emissions compared to separations via traditional approaches, primarily, distillation.
  • The recovery of valuable components in dilute process or waste streams, thereby supporting increasing the U.S. chemical industry's competitiveness and substantially improving its environmental performance.
  • The creation of good, high-technology manufacturing jobs by promoting and advancing new technologies and engineering tools.
  • Educating next generation business, science and engineering leaders in a range of more sustainable separations technologies.


The Road Map was developed based on the output from a series of six workshops with a total of 185 participants held over three years and resulted in the articulation of nine research and technology areas shown in the figure below. Workshop participants included experts in separations technologies, molecular modeling, physical/chemical property estimation, self-organizational or interfacial processes, process simulation and design, and other innovators from chemical sciences, physics, and engineering from the chemical process industries, universities, separations equipment and separating agent providers, national labs, and federal agencies. A publicly available version of the AltSep Road Map in PDF format may be downloaded here: AltSep Report 2019

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Figure 1:  AltSep key research, development and demonstration needs.

By Jenny MacKellar, Program Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute


Here at ACS GCI, ensuring that the next generation of chemists is educated with a green chemistry perspective is one of our strategic priorities. Over the years, ACS GCI has developed and led many programs to support this objective, such as our awards programs, student workshops, summer school, and webinars and other resources for ACS undergraduate chemistry chapters. However, we realized the development of a green chemistry education roadmap was needed—a strategic initiative that articulates the goals, implementation strategies and resources needed, while aligning the community around its vision.


The vision of the roadmap is to advance chemistry education that equips and inspires chemists to solve the grand challenges of sustainability. Our multi-pronged approach to addressing this vision includes:


  1. Describing what green chemistry looks like in the practice of chemistry
  2. Identifying what students need to know to advance sustainability
  3. Offering professional development opportunities to enable faculty to effectively teach green and sustainable chemistry concepts
  4. Creating pull, or demand, from employers seeking to hire chemists with this type of knowledge


Through a series of workshops with green chemistry and chemistry education practitioners, a set of green chemistry core competencies for chemistry graduates was developed. The core competencies are highly aspirational, inspirational goals for the next generation of chemists. In order to achieve these goals, a systems thinking approach to chemistry is necessary. However, since the vision and competencies are very high level, extensive work needs to be done to bridge from the aspirational ideas to concrete examples.


We are using a multi-pronged approach to advance the vision of the green chemistry education roadmap and adoption of green chemistry into the undergraduate curriculum. One of these approaches has been a partnership with the ACS Examinations Institute to develop a green chemistry theme for the organic and general chemistry Anchoring Concepts Content Maps (ACCM). This process was described in a publication released last week in the Journal of Chemical Education.


The product of this collaboration draws connections between green chemistry concepts and the typical content found in general chemistry and organic chemistry courses. Using the ACCMs, we are able to demonstrate that we are not removing fundamental chemistry concepts in favor of green chemistry, rather we are suggesting modifications to existing concepts that would better prepare students to practice chemistry in a more sustainable way.


Another reality that we are facing is a crowded curriculum. Demonstrating where green chemistry concepts fit into the foundational chemistry content will also help educators select the most appropriate and meaningful examples for their setting. We understand that flexibility is paramount and that no two institutions are the same.


Over the next three years, we will use the green chemistry-themed ACCMs to develop education materials and host capacity-building, or train-the-trainer, workshops to support educators in adopting green chemistry content into their courses. As we move forward with this project, one of the most important things we can have is strong support and engagement from this community and the chemistry education community. We need your candid and productive participation in this process to create the best possible materials and to help create the network to support educators. We will be partnering with other key stakeholders in the community to move this forward as well. So how would you like to be involved? Contact us at

By Evan Riley, Communication Associate, ACS Green Chemistry Institute


In order to reimagine chemistry for a more sustainable future, the next generation of chemists needs to have a working knowledge of green and sustainable chemistry principles and practices. Attending and presenting at a scientific conference is an important milestone and professional development opportunity for young researchers. To enable this experience for more early-career scientists, the ACS Green Chemistry Institute (ACS GCI) administers several annual awards for students and postdoctoral scholars pursuing research that incorporates green chemistry and engineering design principles. To date, over 100 scholars have benefited from these awards. Many of these scholars have gone on to become scientists and engineers leading the way, as we strive to develop chemistry solutions for the world’s grand sustainability challenges.


This year, eight awardees were selected from an impressive pool of applicants. We were excited to see innovative green chemistry work being done by young researchers both domestically and internationally.


Thank you to our dedicated judging panels for volunteering their time to review the ever-growing number of applications. This was not an easy task! And, last but certainly not least, congratulations to these outstanding researchers! We’re excited to see what’s in store for you.


Kenneth G. Hancock Memorial Award

The Kenneth G. Hancock Memorial Award provides national recognition and honor for outstanding student contributions to furthering the goals of green chemistry through research and/or studies. The ACS Division of Environmental Chemistry and the National Institute of Standards and Technology support the award. Recipients receive $1,000, and an additional $1,000 is available to support travel.


The 2020 award will be presented during the 24th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering (GC&E) Conference, June 16-18, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.


Ariel Fernandez is an undergraduate chemistry student from the University of Costa Rica. Fernandez’s research is aimed at developing an alternative use for a ubiquitous waste product: cigarette butts. The study finds a way to reuse all parts of the waste product. The extraction of any remaining nicotine to be used locally as a more environmentally friendly pesticide; tar can be converted into biochar and used to filter heavy metals from water; filter material can be decontaminated and used for water filtration; and the paper portion can be recycled into paper business cards.



Metin Karayilan, a Ph.D. candidate in organic and polymer chemistry at the University of Arizona, is being honored for his work on biomimetic metallopolymers with enhanced catalytic activity for sustainable hydrogen production in water. His research aims to improve the electrochemistry of H2 production as an energy storage solution for renewable energy sources using earth-abundant catalysts.



Joseph Breen Memorial Fellowship

The Joseph Breen Memorial Fellowship supports the participation of young green chemistry scholars from around the world to attend an international green chemistry technical meeting, conference or training program. The award was established in 2000 through the ACS International Endowment Fund in commemoration of the late Dr. Joe Breen, first director of the Green Chemistry Institute. Each winner receives up to $2,000 for travel and conference expenses.


From the nominations received, the 2020 winners are:


Emily Chapman is an undergraduate chemistry student from Augsburg University in Minnesota. Chapman has helped to develop a greener alternative to the classic Biginelli reaction using microwave irradiation and a urea catalyst.





Giulia Ischia is a Ph.D. student from The University of Trento in Italy. Her work investigates thermochemical processes for the valorization of waste biomass into bio-based products, sustained completely by solar energy.


Both women will be presenting their research at the 24th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Seattle, Washington next June.


Ciba Travel Awards in Green Chemistry

Established in 2009 through the Ciba Green Chemistry Student Endowment, the Ciba Travel Awards in Green Chemistry aim to expand students’ understanding of green chemistry by facilitating their participation in a scientific conference. The award amount covers conference travel expenses up to $2,000.


The winners of the 2020 Ciba Travel Award in Green Chemistry are:


Mollie Enright, a second-year graduate student in chemistry at the University of Toledo, is studying iron-catalyzed cross-coupling of heterocycles. Her study involves utilizing inexpensive, abundant and less-toxic metals to perform chemical transformations. Enright has been a passionate advocate of green chemistry throughout her academic and professional career. She will present her work at the GC&E meeting in Seattle.



Tyler Roberts, a M.Sc. candidate in chemistry from the University of Arizona, is developing an alternative glycolipid surfactant using biocatalysis. He will attend and present his research at the GC&E meeting next June.


Alia Rubaie is an undergraduate student of biochemistry and chemistry at Santa Clara University in California. Rubaie looks to improve the efficiency of copper use in atom transfer radical polymerization during polymer synthesis by using activators generated by electron transfer (AGET) and radical trap assistance. She will attend and present her work at the ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia in March 2020 at the poster session in the Division of Polymer Chemistry.



Lorianne Shultz, a first year Ph.D. student in materials chemistry from the University of Central Florida, is developing noble metal-free catalyst systems for remediation of emerging contaminants (e.g. pseudo-estrogens, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and pharmaceuticals), utilizing both photochemical and traditional redox processes. Shultz will present her findings at the GC&E conference next summer.



By Ian Mallov, Ph.D., Research Chemist at inkbox Tattoos


You might have seen news of the young sperm whale who died on a beach in Scotland two weeks ago. A necropsy of the animal found more than 100 kilograms of plastic in its stomach. Fishing nets, plastic cups, bags and rope were among the debris. It’s as yet undetermined whether the plastic contributed to the animal’s death.


Perhaps we’ve become immune to this type of news lately – a dull reminder of the accumulating impact humans have on the planet’s other inhabitants. But, disturbingly, this is not the end of these plastics’ life cycle: the recovered plastic will likely go to a landfill and await a degradation process in the tens or hundreds of years. Assuming sufficient light and oxygen, gradual oxidation of the polymers will occur until brittle enough that physical breakage into smaller and smaller pieces allows microbes to metabolize them. Perhaps, before this happens, they will be swept out to sea again.


Essentially, the end-of-life issues are a problem of chemical kinetics. I work on the other end of the life cycle. Each day the company I work for, like so many others, rolls out products packaged in plastic to ship throughout the United States, Canada and overseas. To paraphrase the first principle of green chemistry, it’s better to prevent waste than to clean it up later. But how do manufacturers prevent waste when plastics are often the cheapest and most efficient protective packaging?


We are all familiar with the excellent barrier properties and light weight of plastics. But since the first synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was patented in 1909, a century of manufacturing optimization has resulted in formidably cheap, widely customizable materials composed of one or more of several common polymers: low- and high-density polyethylene (LDPE and HDPE), polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and silicones, among others. The efficiency of manufacture of most traditional plastics, including material and energy inputs, makes it difficult for other materials to compete, and indeed this optimization contributes positively to minimizing the environmental impact of their early life cycle.


But it is the end-of-life problem that is increasingly urgent. Most plastics in North America still end up in the landfill. Alternatives to landfills such as recycling, pyrolysis to hydrocarbon fuels, and incineration are available, but fillers, stabilizers, plasticizers and colorants complicate these processes, as does food, adhesives, and other contamination from mixed solid waste streams, particularly when trying to recycle plastics. As of 2017, only 8% of U.S.-generated plastics were recycled, 16% incinerated, and the rest went to landfill. This is especially challenging in other parts of the world, especially in Southeast Asia, where a lack of waste management practices result in far less recycling, incineration or landfilling.


So what functions do we need from plastics? Their ubiquity makes this seem almost a rhetorical question, and depending on the application, there will be different functions. After all, the functions we need from plastics that go into building, automobile, marine, packaging or other applications vary tremendously and represents a formidable challenge in designing new plastics. For example, as a manufacturer of any good with a limited shelf life, you need a few key benefits from packaging: protection from physical damage, protection from dirt, and reduced exposure to water vapor and oxygen, to name just a few.


Measuring the effectiveness of packaging can be quantified by measuring hardness, density, tensile strength, heat resistance and glass transition temperatures. Just as importantly, moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR) and oxygen transmission rate (OTR), often measured in grams per square inch per twenty-four hour period, give an indication of how packaging will slow spoilage of food, goods and chemicals from oxidative processes.


Having a rudimentary idea of what to measure, and which metrics are key for your product, allows you to begin the process of evaluating options beyond traditional polymer materials. In the case of plastic packaging, one of the desirable functions that has been suggested is the ability for the plastic to be biodegradable and compostable. A few resources have been developed to help chemists answer the question of whether or not the plastic will be biodegradable and compostable. One such resource is the New York-based Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), founded in 1999. The BPI has developed a scientifically-based certification system for products to be considered industrially compostable, that is, degrading under typical conditions of industrial compost facilities on a timescale of weeks. The BPI requests physical samples of materials to test for certification.


Another venerable resource is ISO 17088: Specifications for Compostable Plastics, published in 2008. While not free, the availability of an ISO standard for over a decade is testament to the slow progress industries have made on this problem.


More recently, a myriad of small companies offer bio-based and renewable alternatives to traditional plastics in the form of industrially compostable polymers such as the class of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) including the most recognizable, polylactide (PLA), or paper or cellulose-based materials that mimic the properties of traditional plastics. Companies such as Australia-based Grounded Packaging offer a range of products that are certified compostable under even the milder conditions of home compost piles, mitigating the problem of access to municipal composting facilities.


Recent articles in this newsletter have highlighted other approaches to plastics production such as using the pyrolysis of sugar or other biomass to produce monomers through a Fischer-Tropsch process for use in more than just hydrocarbon fuels. The most notable example of this approach is the “Plant Bottle”, developed by Coca-Cola, and now used by a number of drinks manufacturers.


Legislation is beginning to catch up with growing consumer demand for more sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics. The parliament of the European Union passed a single-use plastics ban in March of 2019, while Canada followed suit in June. Both are to come into effect in 2021. Countries such as Bangladesh, South Korea, Rwanda and Colombia have announced more limited bans on plastic items. Many cities and municipalities have single-use plastic bans or taxes.


With legislation gaining momentum, it is up to chemists to help ensure that laws are informed and effective, and to continue to push the boundaries of their creativity, to think beyond the consumer to a systemic solution for plastics use in modern society. This responsibility includes influencing decisions made in the production and manufacturing of chemicals and consumer goods. After all, the functions plastics impart are essential. It is imperative that we learn how to design and manage them in a way that does not adversely affect human health or the environment. After all, it’s a problem of kinetics.

Amazingly, another year is drawing to a close – it is hard to believe that 20 years ago we were worried about Y2K!  The end of every year brings a time for reflection on the current year and anticipation for the coming year.  2019 has been a good year for the ACS Green Chemistry Institute (ACS GCI), with more than 600 individuals registering for the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, which was held jointly with the International Conference on Green & Sustainable Chemistry in June.  The 2020 conference, with a theme of “Systems-Inspired Design,” will be held from June 16-18, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.  Abstract submission opens on January 6, and next year’s conference will feature about 40 technical sessions, the product showcase, a poster session, and ample opportunities for networking with colleagues.  I encourage you to submit an abstract by the February 17 deadline at


Education has been at the forefront of ACS GCI’s work in 2019.  Connections between green chemistry and systems thinking continue to grow, and a special issue of the Journal of Chemical Education, featuring articles on these two topics, has just been published.  We continue working with the ACS Exams Institute to integrate green chemistry into the Anchoring Concepts Content Maps.  And as reported in my last column, we will be embarking on a new project in 2020 to develop a suite of education resources designed to integrate green and sustainable chemistry into general and organic chemistry.


On December 2, the ACS GCI began accepting applications for a new fellowship, the Heh-Won Chang, PhD Fellowship in Green Chemistry.  This fellowship provides graduate students conducting green chemistry research with $5,000 to be used for any purpose, including conference travel, professional development, and living expenses.  Recipients of the fellowship must present their research at the Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference.  Applications are due by 5:00 PM EST on January 5, 2020.  The fellowship was established through the generosity of Mrs. Cecilia Chang in memory of her husband Dr. Heh-Won Chang.


Pacifichem will be held one year from now in Honolulu, Hawaii, from December 15-20, 2020.  Along with colleagues in Canada and New Zealand, ACS GCI is organizing a symposium on “Green Chemistry and Engineering’s Role in Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”  Numerous other symposia will focus on green chemistry, including “Green Techniques for Organic & Medicinal Chemistry,” “Green Chemistry and Engineering for a Sustainable Circular Economy,” “Innovations for Green Chemistry:  Striving Towards Zero Waste API Manufacturing,” and “Chemistry for Global Challenges:  A Role for Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education.”  The call for abstracts will open on January 2, 2020 at   


Significant progress has been made in advancing green chemistry and engineering research and education across the chemistry enterprise, yet much work remains in order to achieve a sustainable planet.  I am grateful for your dedicated efforts to transform the practice of chemistry, and wish you joyous holidays and a happy new year! 



Mary Kirchoff


“The Nexus Blog” is a sister publication of “The Nexus” newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, please email, 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.

It was lovely to see so many of you at the ACS National Meeting in San Diego in August! Green chemistry symposia were presented across numerous divisions on a variety of topics. The ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable organized a workshop, an organic symposium and two ACS Theatre presentations. Nobel Prize winner Frances Arnold, who also received the 2019 Bower Award for Green and Sustainable Chemistry, gave a fantastic Kavli address on "Innovation by Evolution: Bringing new chemistry to life." We enjoyed catching up with many of you at the ACS GCI reception at the Dubliner on Tuesday evening, and look forward to seeing you at green chemistry receptions at future ACS National Meetings.


One outcome of the San Diego meeting that I am very pleased to report is the approval from the ACS Board of Directors to fund the development of green and sustainable chemistry education resources. These new resources will integrate green and sustainable chemistry, systems thinking, and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and will be targeted at undergraduate students studying general and organic chemistry. We hope to engage a number of you in developing these new classroom resources over the next three years. This initiative is part of the Green Chemistry Education Roadmap project, to which many of you have contributed over the years. If you want to catch up on these efforts, I recommend reading ACS GCI Advisory Board Chair Bill Carroll’s article in the August 2 issue of Chemical & Engineering News where he mapped out ACS GCI’s education efforts.


In other news, I recently returned from the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry conference in Gaborone, Botswana. Our colleagues in Africa have a strong interest in green chemistry, and I was delighted that so many speakers referenced the SDGs during their presentations. The SDGs are proving to be a compelling framework to guide chemistry research and education going forward. ACS is currently mapping out how we can best contribute to achieving the ambitious goals articulated by the SDGs, and we will keep you apprised of our efforts and opportunities for you to join us in meeting these global challenges.


By Christiana Briddell, Sr. Communications Manager, ACS GCI; Jennifer MacKellar, Program Manager, ACS GCI; Marta Gmurczyk, Safety Portfolio Manager, ACS


Today’s environmental headlines are replete with sustainability topics from climate change to plastics to sustainable fashion. National and global sustainability priorities are becoming more integrated into corporate and organizational plans. On university campuses, general sustainability initiatives are widespread. Yet, sometimes, one can overlook the most obvious place for greener approaches to take root—the chemistry lab.

If you think about it, almost all of these challenges and trends relate back to chemistry on some level. Everything begins with chemistry and chemistry has a major role to play in driving a more sustainable future. As a professional organization for chemists, the American Chemical Society is interested in highlighting the role of chemists and chemistry in addressing grand sustainability challenges. By using green and sustainable chemistry and engineering principles, practices, metrics and tools, chemists are already having a significant impact. But this is not the only way chemists can improve sustainability outcomes. Safe and sustainable lab practices are also squarely in the realm of control—and are an important avenue for those working and learning in academic labs.

When I took undergraduate chemistry in the late 90’s, there was no talk of lab sustainability and safety was viewed as more of an inconvenience than an important and marketable knowledge base. The concept of “green chemistry” had only recently been conceived, and we certainly never heard of it in the classroom. Today, many colleges and universities have their own green labs program, and like at ACS, safety is listed as a core value of many institutions. While these programs and efforts are gaining traction, there is still a lot of work to do. Laboratories are typically the most resource-intensive places on campus—and one where students can be exposed to real safety hazards.

The good news is that there are many resources available to help students, faculty and staff improve lab sustainability, safety, and incorporate greener chemistry practices. The benefits are many: decreased energy costs, reduced hazardous waste disposal requirements, conservation of water, building a culture of safety and training the next generation to be able to choose greener materials and methods are just a few of them.

It is important to note that while these three topics (sustainability, chemical safety, and green chemistry) are interrelated and complementary, they have distinct implications and mechanisms for implementation.

  1. Sustainable laboratory practices deal with general management of resources such as energy, water and waste, and are often a good place to start.
  2. And of course, a sustainable lab must be a safe lab—since your well-being is key to sustainability.
  3. Green chemistry approaches help you actually do your chemistry in a way that reduces waste, eliminates hazards and includes considerations beyond the lab.


Action Area 1: Conserve, Reduce and Recycle
Laboratories are huge consumers of resources on campus. Activities such as running ventilation, maintaining deep-freezers, and washing loads of glassware contribute to significant energy and water use, while disposing of plastic pipettes and using toxic chemicals and rare metals create significant waste. A review of energy use at Harvard University revealed that labs account for about half of the energy use on campus — but only 20 to 25 percent of the square footage. Fume hoods are reputed to consume 3.5 times per day as much energy as an average house. These examples and others are why the first step to a more sustainable lab is to make sure that you have checked all the sustainability boxes.

Many green lab programs have published checklists on their websites (see resources below). One of these programs I recommend checking out is My Green Lab—an organization dedicated to creating a culture of lab sustainability. Their Green Lab Certification covers all the major areas you can assess and improve. For example, three such areas include:

Save Energy
Finding ways to save energy is crucial. Simple steps can make a big difference, such as:

  • Turning off equipment not in use
  • Using screen savers and outlet timers
  • Replace other types of lights with LED lights
  • Turning off lights when they are not needed
  • Employing best practices for freezer management
  • Using “Shut the Sash” stickers to remind people to close fume hoods to reduce energy use


Save Water
It can be easy to forget that clean water is also a precious resource—but some universities in areas with water shortages and droughts may already be working with restrictions. Practices to save water include:

  • Using low-flow water faucets
  • Wash labware efficiently
  • If using an autoclave to sterilize, make sure it’s run at full capacity


Reduce Waste

  • Recycle all the disposables you can, including gloves, batteries, and ink/toner cartridges
  • Consider using glass pipettes instead of plastic
  • Share resources with other labs when possible
  • Set printers to double-sided
  • Separate hazardous and non-hazardous waste


Action Area 2: Build Safety Awareness
The practice of chemistry from concept through research, development, manufacture, use, and disposal must be done safely so as to minimize adverse impacts on human health and/or the environment. The American Chemical Society (ACS) believes recognition of the obligations to the safety and health of both individuals and the environment is essential for those working with chemicals. ACS provides a wide variety of educational resources to support universities along their safety journey. One way to promote safety awareness is by knowing how to recognize hazards and assess risks from these hazards in your lab. The RAMP organizing principle supports the use of a risk-based approach to safety.

  1. Recognize Hazards by understanding how to read chemical Safety Data Sheets, review safety guidelines, and sign a safety contract.
  2. Assess the Risks of Hazards by thinking about how you could be exposed to the hazard and how.
  3. Minimize the Risks of Hazards through carefully thinking through the chemicals you will be using in your experiment and their safety considerations. Wear appropriate safety equipment.
  4. Prepare for Emergencies by knowing how to handle common accidents such as spills, cuts, burns, exposures and fires. Practice emergency drills and make sure emergency equipment is ready.


Chemists understand that working with chemicals and developing new materials and chemical processes involve some degree of risk. A thoughtful and educated approach to chemical safety must assess the overall life-cycle and risk/benefit analysis for each area of the chemistry enterprise. The process of minimizing risk while optimizing benefits should continue throughout the investigation, development, implementation, use, and appropriate recycling or ultimate disposal of products and byproducts.

Safe chemistry and green chemistry have a lot in common. They both focus on protecting people. RAMP and green chemistry are a winning combination.


Action Area 3: Apply Systems Thinking and Green Chemistry
The idea of preventing pollution rather than remediating pollution became the preferred response to environmental issues by the late 80s. The EPA established the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics in 1988 and the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 marked a change in policy towards “upstream” solutions as the most effective. Green chemistry grew out of this idea—declaring that chemists could reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals and wasted resources by applying certain principles into the design of their chemistries.

A systems thinking approach to chemistry encourages chemists to think beyond their immediate reaction to consider the broader implications of their choices of chemicals, chemistries, and processes. Where did your reagents come from? Are they coming from or produced in conflict zones or areas with questionable labor practices? Are they earth abundant and renewable materials? Or are they scare? How much energy is needed to run the reaction? What will happen to your materials and products at the end of their useful life? Can they be readily reused, recycled, or remanufactured? Or will they end up in a landfill? What are the environmental implications of the waste or effluent? Are there persistence or bioaccumulation concerns? All of these questions encourage the chemist to consider the larger system in which their chemistry will occur.

Green chemistry tools and metrics can help chemists to answer these questions and make informed choices, better understand tradeoffs and ultimately practice chemistry in a more sustainable, ethical, and safer way. Today there are tools available to help students think about how to approach labs using the design principles of green chemistry & engineering.

Solvent Selection
Solvents often contribute significantly to the waste in a given reaction, and can be quite hazardous materials. The good news is that there are numerous guides available to help you select more benign solvents. The ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable recommends the Chem21 Solvent Selection Guide that assesses the safety, health and environmental score of 77 solvents.

Another tool to select solvents developed by the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable is the Solvent Selection Tool. It is an interactive tool that enables you to select solvents based upon a variety of key solvent properties such as physical properties, environmental, safety, and health data, etc. In this way, you can find an alternative solvent that meets your criteria.

Reagent Selection
Another component of chemical transformations are reagents. Chemists are able to use a number of different reagents for a given chemical transformation. The ACS GCIPR Reagent Guides help you select the most appropriate reagent based on its greenness, scalability and utility scores. The guides provide extensive research to illuminate different reagents presented.

Alternatives Assessment
One method used in industry to encourage greener choices is Alternatives Assessment. The objective of an alternatives assessment is to look for inherently safer alternatives to chemicals you are or might be using, thereby protecting and enhancing human health and the environment. It’s not as easy as it sounds because chemicals are not modular, drop-and-replace components. Different chemicals have different functions in a product, interact with the other chemicals involved in specific ways, and have different effects downstream on human and environmental health. That is why a whole science for assessing alternatives is growing around this method.

Simply put though, if you are working with a hazardous material, it would be a good idea to figure out if there is a way to achieve the same function with a more benign chemical. Ideally, chemists would be able to design inherently safer molecules buy understanding the molecular properties of chemicals in order to avoid toxic outcomes.

Life Cycle & Systems Thinking
Learning to think about the entire life cycle of a chemical product is important for many reasons. Without this context, it might be possible as a student to think that chemistry happens when you walk into a lab and ends when you walk out. In reality, all the elements that go into your reaction come from somewhere, and the product and waste coming out ends up somewhere.

For example, if you are using platinum as a catalyst in your reaction, the full environmental impact of your reaction includes considering that platinum comes from mining a precious metal from southern Africa that is expensive and endangered in supply. This reality has driven many researchers to seek ways to use base metals catalytic alternatives like iron. Understanding the life cycle implications of your chemistry will enable you to make better and greener choices in the lab.

There are many other ways of using green chemistry that help your lab become more sustainable. Share your ideas in the comments below!







Green Chemistry


Each year ACS Student Chapters incorporate green chemistry outreach and activities into their programming in order to receive the Green Chemistry Award. The Green Chemistry Student Chapter Award, created eighteen years ago through a collaboration between the ACS Green Chemistry Institute (ACS GCI) and ACS Education Division, recognizes the efforts of chapters that have incorporated at least three green chemistry activities.

This becomes a challenging task for student chapters, as many of their chemistry courses do not integrate green chemistry into the curriculum. Therefore, many of the chapters learn about green chemistry by studying on their own—and it can be tricky understanding the difference between general sustainability, environmental chemistry, and green chemistry – three related but different subject areas. One way chapter members ensured they were performing a qualified green chemistry activity was by participating in ACS webinars and/or Program-in-a-Box activities prepared by ACS GCI.

Other green chemistry activities chapters did in the 2018-19 school year ranged from volunteering at local schools, holding symposium on emerging topics in green chemistry, creating trivia games, to helping rewrite the curriculum for general chemistry labs. Here are a few standout examples of green chemistry activities:


  • Volunteering at local schools was a popular activity. Student Chapters went to K-12 schools and demonstrated several activities ranging from an E-factor experiment with M&Ms that conveys the importance of limiting waste (and cleaning up the process) to a safety in chemistry lesson guiding Boy Scouts through the importance of using alternative materials.
  • Nine Student Chapters participated in the Program-in-a-Box (Mars: Red Planet Chemistry and The Evolving Periodic Table). Many of the students commented on how The Evolving Periodic Table activity opened up a dialogue on endangered elements and the challenges faced in designing greener alternatives.
  • Playing games was a fun and creative activity in which many chapters participated. Students created and developed jeopardy games, bingo game boards, trivia with Kahoot, and scavenger hunts to facilitate learning about green chemistry.
  • A few chapters applied their green chemistry knowledge by making changes to their chemistry course’s curriculum. One student chapter brainstormed innovative ways to make their chemistry lab experiments greener by reducing waste and replacing hazardous elements and solvents. Another chapter altered a traditional lab experiment in the organic chemistry lab and taught why these modifications to the lab were important.


This year there were 55 student chapters’ winners (both U.S. and International) who have won the Green Chemistry Award. The full list of the 2018-2019 academic year Green Chemistry Student Chapter Award winners are:


Alvernia University

Angelo State University

Anne Arundel Community College

Augusta University

Belhaven University

College of William & Mary

Drury University

Duquesne University

Emory & Henry College

Erskine College

Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

Florida International University – Biscayne Bay Campus

Georgia Gwinnette College

Gordon College

Humboldt State University

Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis

Morehead State University

Pacific Lutheran University

Pasadena City College

Saint Francis University

Saint Vincent College

Salem State University

Salt Lake Community College

Santa Monica College

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Stern College for Women – Yeshiva University

Swansea University

Tarleton State University

Tennessee Technological University

Texas Christian University

The Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico

Tuskegee University

Union University

Universidad de Costa Rica

University of Alabama, Birmingham

University of California, Los Angeles

University of California, San Diego

University of Central Arkansas

University of Cincinnati Main Campus

University of Detroit, Mercy

University of Dhaka

University of Houston

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

University of Michigan, Flint

University of New England

University of Pittsburgh

University of Puerto Rico, Bayamon Campus

University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras

University of Tennessee at Martin

University of Toledo

West Virginia State University

Western Illinois University

Western Washington University

Wheaton College

Wilkes University



If your chapter needs ideas of green chemistry activities that will help you receive a green chemistry award, review the ACS GCI Student Chapter Guide.  We are excited to see what everyone does during the 2019-2020 academic year. Congratulations to all 55 chapters for reaching your green chemistry goals! 

Representing the largest body of chemists in the world, the American Chemical Society has an important role to play in supporting its members and working with partners committed to addressing global sustainability challenges. In part two of this series, we’ll explore four foundational challenges and proposed action areas for ACS (Read part one: The Moonshot of our Times).


Action Areas Call Out BoxEach of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represents a set of significant technical and/or social challenges. Without a doubt, awe-inspiring advances in chemical/engineering research, leaps in the sustainability of manufacturing and products, and true integration of sustainability concepts in chemistry education will be needed.


But that is not all...a challenge of this nature demands that we look beyond the specifics and identify what kind of mindset will enable us to meet these challenges.

As ACS develops a strategic response to the SDGs, the Division of Scientific Advancement, led by Dr. Mary Kirchhoff, has illuminated some “cross-cutting challenges” we will need to address as a community if we are to move the needle on sustainability. Likewise, four areas for action are proposed to help address these issues.


Challenge: A New Mindset
A quick study of social science tells us that by far the hardest thing to do is to change someone’s mind—convince them (or even harder, ourselves) of the primacy of a new way of thinking. It usually takes a strong emotional connection; reason typically only goes so far to change human behavior.


Fifty-one years ago, Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders took the first color photo of the Earth rising from behind the moon. Anders said of the experience, “That was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.” The picture evoked a strong response worldwide and is credited with inspiring the environmental movement. To me, this image remains potent today as a reminder of the unity and fragility of life in the vast expanse of space.


Most likely, if you are reading this from the pages of The Nexus, you also have something that inspires you on an emotional level to connect to sustainable and green chemistry. But for the larger chemistry community, which has yet to fully embrace sustainability, what will it take to get there?


Action #1: Create a Sustainability Mindset across the Chemistry Community

At a recent Committee on Environmental Improvement meeting I attended as a guest at the ACS National Meeting in San Diego, I got to meet a group of passionate ACS members already working to spread the sustainability mindset within the chemistry community. Similarly, at the offices of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute in Washington, D.C., I’m constantly inspired by my colleagues who go above and beyond promoting and fostering the green chemistry approach both within the Society and among larger global audiences (e.g., ACS GCI staff have been in India, China and Botswana in the last month alone). Although change can take time, I believe ACS has an important role to play in motivating and unifying the chemistry community around a culture of sustainability.

Education is another area where ACS plays a strategic role in the community. By integrating concepts like systems thinking and green chemistry, and by using the SDGs as a framework, we can help equip students to contribute to solving the grand challenges of sustainability. ACS GCI has been partnering with many groups and individuals to move this effort forward over the past several years, and is about to embark on a three-year content creation project to further support educators in this area.


There are many facets of creating a sustainability mindset in which ACS can provide leadership and support, and these are just a few.

Challenge: Efficient Translation of Research into Practice
As evidenced by the huge amount of research catalogued in scientific journals—over 3 million peer-reviewed articles per year—there is no shortage of research being conducted worldwide. Where things tend to break down is in how long it takes for research and innovations to be translated into commercial products and industrial practices. This is where the rubber hits the road if we are going to realize practical solutions for the SDGs before the 2030 deadline. A sustained focus on this issue by all sectors of the chemistry community could significantly improve the rate of translation. Improving the understanding and communication between industry and academia, as well as between industry and regulatory agencies, are just two areas to work on.

Challenge: Innovation and Entrepreneurship
An unprecedented amount of innovation and entrepreneurship will be essential to make the kind of scientific and technological breakthroughs needed for achieving the SDGs. The chemistry community can enable this by identifying and addressing innovation bottlenecks; developing new approaches to conducting research and multidisciplinary collaborations; looking for ways to speed up adoption of cutting-edge tools (e.g., data science) in research; and providing greater support for high-risk, high-reward research.


Action #2: Foster Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Translation in Chemistry

Frontiers in chemistry are increasingly spanning several fields, requiring researchers to form multidisciplinary groups. For example, Frances Arnold, 2018 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, works with molecular biology, biochemistry, bioengineering and chemistry students in her research group. During a 2015 interview I did with her for The Nexus, she said, “I know chemists who feel that biology is the big frontier for them. They can apply their more traditional chemical knowledge to identifying new opportunities for biological synthesis.” ACS can create opportunities for information exchange and collaboration across sectors and disciplines that foster innovation, and efficient translation of research.


At the same time, ACS can help chemists develop the skills and knowledge they need to be entrepreneurs, and provide space to promote chemistry innovators. One recent example of this took place at the ACS National Meeting in San Diego where the ACS Industry Member Programs and ACS Small Chemical Businesses Division held a successful Entrepreneur Pitch Training and Competition. Other efforts have included an Entrepreneurial Summit at ACS; a Business Plan Competition at the GC&E Conference; and a student workshop fostering entrepreneurial skills such as networking, IP issues and chemical product design, also at the GC&E Conference.


Challenge: Policy Changes
Policy is an important tool to foster innovation in nascent and early-growth sectors. Whether we like it or not, the marketplace will not always drive innovation when it means competing with embedded technologies that have billions or trillions of dollars of sunk investment. Policies aligned with the SDGs must be considered. For example, the current low price of energy and carbon drives our industry toward fossil carbon-based feedstocks, making it extremely difficult for new approaches to take root. Only new policy can change this. The chemistry community can identify and be a strong voice for policy that moves the SDGs forward.


Action #3: Promote Sustainable Chemical Manufacturing
Many companies are moving towards more sustainable practices in response to the SDGs and other global challenges like plastic pollution and climate change. Partnering with industry to further their engagement with sustainable chemical and engineering approaches could be an area of increased ACS activity.

A recent example of this type of engagement is the AltSep project to advance sustainable separations. This project was led by the ACS Green Chemistry Institute’s Chemical Manufacturing Roundtable in partnership with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and supported by a $500,000 grant from the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). Over the past three years, ACS hosted a series of workshops with academic, industry and government scientists to map out a roadmap for less-energy intensive alternatives to separations. This kind of fundamental change to chemical processes, which represents a significant amount of fundamental research, cannot be tackled by any individual company. ACS holds a unique position as a non-profit in being able to partner with government, academia and industry, as well as other associations, to move sustainable chemical manufacturing forward.

Action #4: Promote Sustainability across the Globe
On July 8, ACS president-elect Luis Echegoyen participated in a forum of chemistry society presidents hosted by the Société Chimique de France at their Paris headquarters. The outcome of this meeting, was a joint agreement among the 15 societies present to collaborate on the SDGs—with an open invitation for others to join in the agreement. Creating and expanding these kinds of global partnerships that address the SDGs is an area that ACS can provide leadership.

In alignment with ACS’s strategic goal to communicate chemistry’s value, communicating progress towards the SDGs across the chemistry community and to the public is another area where ACS can act. I hope this article is one small step towards achieving that end…but there are many other efforts in this area. For example, at the upcoming ACS National Meeting in Philly and next year’s Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Seattle sessions are being planned that highlight chemistry’s role in the SDGs.


Final Thoughts
There are likely a myriad of ways we could approach responding to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, but hopefully these four broad areas proposed resonate with you. Feedback from the community is important--How do you envision ACS supporting you in the context of these goals?


In next month’s installment we will start to dig into the specific SDGs and how they tie into chemistry.

Dr. Bryony Core, Senior Technology Analyst at IDTechEx

We live in the age of plastic. Our lives have become so enmeshed with it that it is becoming impossible to avoid in day to day life. Its uses are myriad: saving lives in medical devices, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by light-weighting vehicles, and packaging food to prevent it from spoiling. But it wasn’t always this way: mass production started to ramp up in the 1950s, and ever since supply has grown exponentially to reach 348 MT produced in 2017 alone.[1] This wouldn’t be a problem, were it not for the fact that the lifespan of plastic typically far exceeds the time spent using it, as well as its synthesis from non-renewable hydrocarbon feedstocks.

One of the central issues with plastic is that it won’t readily decompose, instead being ground into ever smaller fragments, or “microplastics”. Academic investigation into the prevalence of contamination has revealed that plastic is indeed everywhere: microplastics have been found in tap water, in the air and in soil. Following an onslaught of recent news coverage depicting the scale of the problem, plastic pollution now occupies a very prominent position in public consciousness. One proposed solution is to incinerate waste plastic to avoid its longevity in the environment. However, burning these carbon-rich sinks only serves to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

Considering the significant downsides of plastics produced on the current scale, what are the options? Recycling at their end of life is one route to managing waste; however, recycling infrastructure is far from perfect and mechanical recovery methods output ever poorer materials until incineration or landfill are the only options left. Alternatively, another potential solution lies in replacing petroleum-based polymers with biobased polymers, which have been partially or completely derived from a renewable biomass feedstock.

Biobased polymers can be chemically identical to petroleum-based polymers, and therefore act as “drop-in” replacements, or they can have entirely new chemistries. They can both directly substitute incumbent materials and offer the potential for improved performance. Furthermore, they partly answer the complications raised above: produced via photosynthesis, biomass locks in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and is a carbon sink. As a result, biobased polymers represent a means to substantially reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions over their lifecycle compared to current polymers.

In addition, their unique chemistries present novel properties: several biobased polymers are also biodegradable or compostable and can be metabolised by microorganisms in the correct conditions. NatureWorks and Corbion have developed poly(lactide) (PLA), a compostable polyester, with a combined global production of over 225 kT annually. Challenging to produce economically from petrochemicals, biobased PLA is used in emerging applications such as biocompatible drug delivery systems, cell scaffolding and 3D printing, as well as displacing materials in consumer goods packaging.

Despite the opportunity presented by biobased polymers, and customer demand for greener products, production has been slow to get off the mark. Transitioning proof of concepts out of the laboratory and into an industrial fermentation facility is fraught with technical complexity and high CAPEX. Coupled with a chronic shortage of investment, production at scale has been hindered to date; innovators are exposed to volatility in the price of crude oil, resulting in many ventures ceasing operations in recent years.

Is there a future for biobased polymers? Biobased or not, these polymers still require robust waste management processes, but they do offer a partial solution to the issues of curbing carbon dioxide emissions as well as avoiding waste leaking into the environment. Addressing the funding shortages which have stifled growth, the EU has made €80 billion available under the Horizon 2020 project as part of its updated Bioeconomy Strategy which promotes circular economy initiatives. Based on these factors, IDTechEx projects that biobased polymers will play an increasingly important role in the plastics industry, and that the market size for biobased polymers will grow to 2.7 Mt by 2023, as barriers are addressed and demand for more sustainable materials grows.[2]

[1] “Plastics- The Facts 2018”, Plastics Europe,
[2] “Biobased Polymers 2018-2023: A Technology and Market Perspective”, IDTechEx,

The Peter J. Dunn Award for Green Chemistry & Engineering Impact in the Pharmaceutical Industry will be presented October 25, 2019 to Prof. B. Frank Gupton at the NESACS Process Chemistry Symposium in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The award, established in 2016 by the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable, recognizes excellence in the research, development and execution of pharmaceutical green chemistry that demonstrates compelling environmental, safety and efficiency improvements over current technologies.

B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D.Professor Gupton holds the Floyd D. Gottwald Jr. Chair in Pharmaceutical Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is being honored for his achievements “Increasing Access to Global Health Care through Process Intensification”. Gupton helped to create the Medicines for All Institute, with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates, to address access to affordable medications in developing countries. By developing innovative new manufacturing processes for drugs that treat diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, the Institute has been able to significantly lower the cost of manufacturing medicines leading to reduced cost and greater availability for patients.

Prof. Gupton’s work exploits catalysis and flow chemistry to maximize process efficiency and decrease the environmental impact of drug manufacture. Early results have been impressive. For example, Gupton and his team were able to use increase the yield of manufacturing an HIV drug from 53% to 91%, reducing waste and saving 30-40% in raw material costs. Gupton also recently developed a novel approach to producing Fluconazole, an antifungal medication, using a flow Grignard process. The new process mitigates the safety risks of standard Grignards, reduces material use, and is a more efficient route that could be broadly applied to other drugs.

Before his work at VCU, Gupton had a distinguished industrial career at Celanese and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals.

Nominations are now open for the 2020 Peter J. Dunn Award, recognizing the best of pharmaceutical Green Chemistry. Submissions should highlight impact relative to the principles of green chemistry. The 2020 award will be presented at the 24th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Seattle, Washington June 16-18, 2020 and the winner will be invited to present their green chemistry innovation during the conference. The award reimburses expenses up to $2,500 for conference attendance. Industrial chemists are encouraged to apply.

For more information on eligibility and to download the nomination form go to

Grant winners pictures

Left to right: Fernando Albericio, Beatriz G. de la Torre, Mark Mason, Aaron Vannucci, Arnaud Voituriez, Susan Olesik, and Ryan Shenvi.


Researchers from four U.S. institutions as well as South Africa and France received a total of almost $200,000 in funding from the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable (GCIPR) to advance green chemistry research in the pharmaceutical sciences.

“Providing grants to support advanced research represents a cornerstone of the ACS GCIPR strategy,” says Paul Richardson, Ph.D., director of oncology chemistry at Pfizer, and co-chair of the Roundtable. “The broad range of research initiatives funded by this current round of grant awards serves to highlight the diversity of the Roundtable’s activities.”

The Ignition Grant Program for Green Chemistry & Engineering Research funds novel and innovative ideas that have the potential to provide sustainable solutions to chemistry and engineering problems relevant to the pharmaceutical industry from discovery to manufacturing. The four winners will receive $25,000 each for a 6-month research timeline. The winners are:


Professor Fernando Albericio and professor Beatriz G. de la Torre from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa for their proposal, “Baroc, a Green α-Amino Protecting Group for Solid-Phase Peptide Synthesis.”


Professor Mark Mason, director of the School of Green Chemistry and Engineering at The University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio for “Iron-Catalyzed Cross-Coupling of Heterocycles.”


Assistant professor Aaron Vannucci from the University of South Carolina for his proposal, “A New Approach to Catalyst Immobilization Research: Designing Molecular Catalysts for Heterogeneous Catalysis.”


Arnaud Voituriez, research director at the Institut de Chimie des Substances Naturelles, France for his proposal, “Towards an Electro-Catalytic Wittig Reaction.”


The Roundtable’s analytical chemistry team sought a proposal to clearly define sustainable chromatographic, analytical and purification methodologies in the pharmaceutical industry. Professor Susan Olesik of The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio was awarded $46,996 for her proposal, “A Study of the Environmental Impact of Analytical and Preparative Scale Supercritical Fluid Chromatographic Processes.”


The Roundtable’s greener medicinal chemistry grant seeks to advance the development of precious metal-free cross-coupling methodology applicable to substrates such as heterocycles that are widely used in the industry. The $50,000 award goes to associate professor Ryan Shenvi from the department of chemistry at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California for his proposal, “C–N attached-ring synthesis by Markovnikov hydroamination.”

“We strongly believe that through these research collaborations, significant scientific breakthroughs will be realized to further the application of green chemistry within the pharmaceutical industry and beyond,” adds Richardson.

The ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable has awarded over $2.25 million in funding since their grant program began in 2007. You can learn more about the program at

By Michelle Muzzio, Graduate Student, Brown University


I never realized how much location could profoundly change an experience until I was walking to class about to learn more about green chemistry from some of the world’s leading experts on the topic, walking past South Table Mountain, breathing in the freshest air I’ve ever breathed, all while talking to my new friends about innovations in CO2 capture and conversion. That was the scene every day while I was attending the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy this past August at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO. Location is everything. Bringing together people with similar values, research interests, and of course passion for dancing, in one location, is everything.


View of Golden from the hike up South Table Mountain in the early morning before lectures


Over sixty graduate students and postdocs from all over the United States, Canada, South America, and beyond, found themselves in Colorado for the experience, and were welcomed the first night with a barbecue. At first, it was overwhelming: so many new faces in a new location. I am the first from my university to come the summer school and I applied on a whim almost, because my research in nanoparticle synthesis has begun to drive my interests in more sustainable biomass conversion. I was nervous I wouldn’t fit in. However, within minutes, that changed as we all started talking about our shared interests in green chemistry and even our cultures and where we came, from leading us to Colorado and to this summer school. Of course, the welcome from Dr. Mary Kirchhoff, who was the guiding force of the whole week, quelled any residual anxieties, and we were all excited.


Roommates in Maple Hall, right outside of where our lectures were, posing before the final dinner

 Roommates in Maple Hall, right outside of where our lectures were


The week began with a lecture about systems thinking from Dr. Jim Hutchison from the University of Oregon. Using engaging group activities, he made us think about systems thinking in everything we did, from our experiments in lab to even our morning coffee. He gave two lectures during the week, both of which made participants think much broader than ever before. During the allotted times for breaks between lectures, we had a chance to talk to the speaker or each other about anything: the class content, wild ideas for the future, or any in-between (with coffee, tea, and snacks, of course!). These breaks ended up being where so much of my learning happened during the week, being able to process and bond more with those amazing scientists around me.


Two more staple lecturers were given by Dr. David Constable from the ACS Green Chemistry Institute and Dr. Philip Jessop from Queen’s University. Both are powerhouses of the field of green chemistry, so as students, you could argue that seeing them lecture was comparable to a celebrity sighting. Within Dr. Jessop’s talk, we were all exposed to the joys and tribulations of life cycle analysis (LCA), which highlighted the nuances in green chemistry, assumptions that are often made, and all the factors that must go into deciding whether one thing is “greener” than another.


With its location right around the mountain, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) made an impactful presence with lectures from Dr. Emily Warren and Dr. Bryan Pivovar, about solar cells and fuel cells, respectively. They gave us insight in being working scientists thinking about these complex issues of sustainable energy and how we, as the next generation of scientists, can begin to make research a reality. Lectures about entrepreneurship from Dr. Eric Beckman from the University of Pittsburgh and pharmaceutical green chemistry from Dr. Dan Richter from Pfizer gave us concrete tools how we can think about green chemistry in our own lives. Lectures from Dr. Nancy Jensen of the Petroleum Research Fund and Dr. Natalia Martin allowed participants to understand the grant-writing and job-hunting process, both of which are often scary and misunderstood. The lectures closed with Dr. Ryan Richards of Colorado School of Mines and also Dr. Grant Miyake of Colorado State University, a former Summer School participant, who highlighted a career built on principles he learned at the Summer School, which was very inspiring considering all we learned through the week.


Whitewater rafting is more fun with green chemists!

Whitewater rafting is more fun with green chemists!


Beyond the lectures, there were two poster sessions in which most participants presented their work. Without comparison, it was the most amazing poster session I’ve ever been to because everyone was so engaged, asking important questions, and the lecturers even came, which added to the excitement of seeing green chemistry icons walk up to your poster.  


It wasn’t all schoolwork either. Most of it, actually, was talking and soaking in the beautiful location. From morning hikes up South Table Mountain, to our free Saturday in which this New Yorker whitewater rafted for the first time and then had lunch with her new friends at a delicious Nepalese restaurant, there really never was a dull moment. We also got to explore Golden, stumbling across a street fair that was unfortunately just ending, making our own karaoke, and of course, dancing to new music with our new friends. The ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy is more than just a week of lectures on exciting content; it provides a location and sets a scene for a whole lifetime of experience to come after.


On the way to the poster session, posing with some statues on Colorado School of Mines Campus

On the way to the poster session, posing with some statues on Colorado School of Mines Campus


Moving forward, I will start a job as a scientific editor at CellPress in September after finishing up my Ph.D., and this experience could not have come at a better time. I am excited more than ever to talk about green chemistry, which as I learned this week, is a facet of all chemistry and life in general, not its own separate endeavor.

Before I go, thanks must first go to Mary and Stephanie Wahl, who organized one of the most significant and reenergizing weeks of my graduate school career. You brought all of us together, and for that, we are forever grateful to you both, and ACS, the sponsors, and Colorado School of Mines for hosting.

By Christiana Briddell, Communication Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute

In a cultural and political climate that grows increasingly more divisive and nationalistic, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) stand as a clarion call for decisive and coordinated action for the benefit of global humanity. These far-reaching goals cover everything from the eradication of poverty to climate action to peace and just institutions. If you want to dream big—look no further.

Set in 2015, these 17 broad goals each contain specific targets with indicators to help track progress in achieving them. If you are interested in learning more, the U.N. website is very educational:


The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals
The American Chemical Society—representing the world’s largest society of scientists—recognizes the importance of chemistry in uplifting people’s lives and ensuring the well-being of the planet. In their policy statement on Sustainability and the Chemistry Enterprise, the Society states: “We believe the chemistry enterprise must continue to provide leadership in forging the science and technology that will provide humanity with a sustainable path into the future.”

Using the SDGs as a framework, the ACS is developing a strategic response to this challenge. One of the first priorities is to inspire and enable chemists to see themselves and their work as directly relevant to one, if not many, of the goals. Indeed, there are a myriad of ways that chemistry will necessarily underpin our global efforts in achieving them.

For example, we cannot truly meet goal #2, End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, without closing the loop on soil fertility by finding a way to produce ammonia (NH3) sustainably (which requires a sustainable energy source to produce hydrogen), and by recovering and recycling phosphorus from waste streams. This will require significant development in the fields of catalysis and low-energy, high-efficiency separations respectively. In just this one goal, a revolution in agricultural science and subsequent impact on global infrastructure is required.

It is easy to be overwhelmed when faced with an immense transformative challenge, such as truly meeting the SDGs. On the other hand, sufficiently inspired groups of researchers have performed similarly “impossible” feats under tight timelines—most recently brought to mind with the 50th anniversary of the successful Apollo 11 mission to the moon in July of 1969. Truthfully, although the technological challenge is Nobel-Laureate quality significant, the harder challenge may be in our own capacity to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the future of the planet and the humans who will live on it. Can we put aside other demands; adopt a focus, purpose, collaborative and innovative spirit fit to meet these goals?

This is the question we must ask ourselves.

In the coming issues of The Nexus, we will focus on each goal in turn and discuss specific ways that chemistry innovation can help to move us forward. We will also reveal ACS’s evolving strategic response to the SDGs including a new hub on the website for all things related to chemistry & sustainability. We invite the chemistry and chemical engineering communities to share their approaches to addressing the SDGs so that we can highlight successes, learn from each other, and work together in achieving the dream of a sustainable world.

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