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By Dr. David C. Constable, Director, ACS GCI

 

It has been a busy but exciting month from a sustainable and green chemistry perspective.  I had the opportunity to attend Informex and it was interesting to see the interest in green chemistry expressed by some of the attendees.  I was intrigued by the Michigan State Bioeconomy Institute’s booth with its prominent display of green chemistry and its pride in being the place where Pfizer developed the process for Lipitor.  I’ve said for many years now that chemists and engineers working in green chemistry and engineering needed state-of-the-art scale-up facilities where new chemistries and chemical processes could be tested and the Michigan State facility answers that need perfectly.  I am of the mind that a huge disconnect remains between chemistries developed in most academic labs and those that are run at scale in industry; most academic protocols touted as green would never, ever be able to be scaled up.  Wrong reagents, expensive catalysts, unsafe and environmentally problematic solvents, and on it goes.  It’s not that easy off-the-shelf greener or more sustainable alternatives aren’t available. I don’t understand why they aren’t being used, but this is a topic for another day.

 

I also had the opportunity to meet Adam Malofsky of Bioformix for the first time.  Bioformix is a company that has identified a renewably-derived platform molecule around which it can build a variety of products.  The beauty of this platform molecule and its derivatives is that they can be synthesized using existing manufacturing infrastructure, the processes using these chemicals can be dropped into existing manufacturing lines, and the products in development outperform current product capabilities.  This has all the appearances of being the kind of success story that we like to see in sustainable and green chemistry.  I know that large companies like DuPont, BASF and Dow are doing this all the time, but it is harder for entrepreneurs and small companies to do this, so it’s exciting to see an example in that category.  I’ll be following Bioformix and learning more about the company and its products, so stay tuned.

 

Last week I was pleased to be a part of a panel discussion at the Chemical Manufacturer’s and Economic Group in New York City along with Kef Kasdin, CEO of Proterro and Zack Schildhorn , VP & Director of Operations at Lux Capital.  Proterro is a very interesting company using genetically modified cyano bacteria to produce sugar for the fuels market.  The interesting thing about this is Proterro’s business model to pursue waste CO2 as feedstock and its use of solid-state fermentation.  Solid-state fermentations are notoriously difficult to commercialize, but are used extensively in the food industry in Japan, so I think it’s only a matter of time until Proterro solves its scale-up issues.  The huge hurdles for Proterro in scaling up their technology represent a general research need for synthetic biology, but the potential rewards in succeeding will be enormous.

 

I always find the venture capitalist viewpoint in sustainable and green chemistry to be interesting and Zack did not disappoint.  Identifying potential “winners” in sustainable and green chemistry and engineering is not an easy task but the good news is that there are still investors who are willing to fund new ventures if the right business case can be made.

 

It’s obvious that a lot of progress is being made.  While we might wish that progress would be faster, I remain optimistic that many of you are moving forward and succeeding in sustainable and green chemistry.  Once again, it’s exciting to see.  As always, let me know what you think.

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The tiny packets of chlorophyll that make plants green have been re-engineered in an advance toward transforming plants into bio-factories that make ingredients for medicines, fabrics and fuels.
Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The search for sustainable new materials to store heat captured from the sun for release during the night has led scientists to a high-tech combination of paraffin wax and sand. Their report on the heat-storing capability of this microencapsulated sand appears in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

 

Benxia Li and colleagues explain the need for better materials that can store and release heat. These so-called “phase-change” materials” (PCMs) are essential, for instance, for storing heat from the sun for use in providing energy at night or during cloudy periods. PCMs absorb, store and release heat when changing “phases” from a solid to a liquid and vice versa. They have applications that range from expanding use of solar energy to heat-regulating greenhouses to clothing that keeps soldiers or campers warm on cold nights outdoors. Existing PCMs have disadvantages, such as the tendency to leak or catch fire, and Li’s team set out to find a better material.

 

They describe a new approach to using paraffin as a PCM. Made from petroleum, paraffin is a waxy material that absorbs heat, melts into a liquid and releases heat as it solidifies. It involves encapsulating paraffin into tiny spheres of silicon dioxide, the stuff of beach sand. The microencapsulated paraffin has several advantages, including a large surface area that can transfer heat, less reactivity with the environment and less likelihood of leaking as it changes phases. Li’s team reports successful tests of the material for 30 melting-solidifying cycles with no leaks at a temperature of 158 degrees Fahrenheit. “The high heat storage capability and good thermal stability of the composite enable it to be a potential material to store thermal energy in practical applications,” the report concluded.

 

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Basic Research Program of China, and the Young and Middle-aged Backbone Teachers Fund of Anhui University of Science and Technology.

 

Read the Abstract "Fabrication and Properties of Microencapsulated Paraffin@SiO2 Phase Change Composite for Thermal Energy Storage

 

“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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The tiny packets of chlorophyll that make plants green have been re-engineered in an advance toward transforming plants into bio-factories that make ingredients for medicines, fabrics and fuels.
Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Scientists are reporting an advance in re-engineering photosynthesis to transform plants into bio-factories that manufacture high-value ingredients for medicines, fabrics, fuels and other products. They report on the research in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.

 

Poul Erik Jensen and colleagues explain that photosynthesis does more than transform carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen and generate energy. That process also produces a wealth of natural chemical compounds, many of which have potential uses in medicines and other commercial products. However, evolution has compartmentalized those functions into two separate areas of plant cells. Chloroplasts, the packets of chlorophyll that make plants green, generate energy and produce sugar and oxygen. Another structure, the endoplasmic reticulum, produces a wide range of natural chemicals.

 

Their report describes breaking that evolutionary compartmentalization by relocating an entire metabolic pathway needed for production of natural bioactive chemicals to the chloroplast. “This opens the avenue for light-driven synthesis of a vast array of other natural chemicals in the chloroplast,” they say, citing key natural chemicals that would be ingredients in medications.

 

The authors acknowledge funding from the Villum Foundation and the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

 

Read the abstract “Redirecting Photosynthetic Reducing Power towards Bioactive Natural Product Synthesis

 

From the ACS Office of Public Affairs

 

“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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Duckweed, the quick-growing plant covering this pond, ranks as an ideal raw material for producing biofuels that could help ease reliance on petroleum and natural gas in the 21stcentury.
Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The search for a less-expensive, sustainable source of biomass, or plant material, for producing gasoline, diesel and jet fuel has led scientists to duckweed, that fast-growing floating plant that turns ponds and lakes green. That’s the topic of a report in ACS’ journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

 

Christodoulos A. Floudas, Xin Xiao and colleagues explain that duckweed, an aquatic plant that floats on or near the surface of still or slow-moving freshwater, is ideal as a raw material for biofuel production. It grows fast, thrives in wastewater that has no other use, does not impact the food supply and can be harvested more easily

than algae and other aquatic plants. However, few studies have been done on the use of duckweed as a raw material for biofuel production.

 

They describe four scenarios for duckweed refineries that use proven existing technology to produce gasoline, diesel and kerosene. Those technologies include conversion of biomass to a gas; conversion of the gas to methanol, or wood alcohol; and conversion of methanol to gasoline and other fuels. The results show that small-scale duckweed refineries could produce cost-competitive fuel when the price of oil reaches $100 per barrel. Oil would have to cost only about $72 per barrel for larger duckweed refiners to be cost-competitive.

 

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

 

Read the abstract “Thermochemical Conversion of Duckweed Biomass to Gasoline, Diesel, and Jet Fuel: Process Synthesis and Global Optimization.”

 

From the ACS Office of Public Affairs

 

“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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The availability of suitable land may limit production of biofuels in the years to come.
Credit: Stockbyte/Thinkstock

Amid efforts to expand production of biofuels, scientists are reporting new estimates that downgrade the amount of additional land available for growing fuel crops by almost 80 percent. Their report appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

 

Steffen Fritz and colleagues explain that growing concern exists in the U.S. and the European Union on how production of biofuels will impact food security. This has led to a realization that increased production of biofuels must take place on so-called “marginal land,” acreage not suitable for growing food crops, but capable of growing switch grass, Indian beech trees and Barbados nut trees.

 

Concerned that previous estimates were targeting some areas where land is not marginal, the scientists did the calculations using data obtained through crowdsourcing, which were based on higher-resolution datasets. They concluded that previous studies had overestimated the amount of arable land, had underestimated the amount of land already being cultivated and had not fully considered other competing uses for land other than farming.

 

The revised estimates show that 140 million-2.6 billion acres of additional land could be cultivated for biofuel production. That compares with previous estimates of 800 million-3.5 billion acres. This study highlights the large uncertainties in estimating land availability and points out that such estimates should be used with caution.

 

The authors acknowledge funding from European Community’s Framework Programme via the Project EuroGEOSS, EnerGEO, Pashmina and ASAP programme of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency.

 

Read the abstract “Downgrading Recent Estimates of Land Available for Biofuel Production

 

This briefing was published by the ACS Office of Public Affairs.

 

“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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