It has been a hectic month as the ACS GCI Team has geared up for the 17th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference to be held the 18th through the 20th of June in North Bethesda, MD. The conference is shaping up to be a great event, with 32 technical sessions across a range of disciplines. As we have done in past years, the conference will host a Student Workshop—although this year we are attempting to do something a bit different with the format—taking the students through a fast-pasted, focused and engaging day. Pioneered last year, we continue the experiment with a "hybrid" session—a special session streamed-live online so people around the world can join in. The hybrid panelists will explore anticipated changes to the chemical supply chain in light of advances in bio-based renewables production and the changing landscape in fossil fuel availability. There also will be a large number of activities associated with the ACS GCI Industrial Roundtables, with all three meeting at various times through the week. We are also excited to host an exploratory session on the greening of hydraulic fracturing. Whether you like the idea or not, hydraulic fracturing is with us for at least the next 100 years or more, so we better figure out how to do it in a manner that has the fewest environmental impacts.
I had the distinct pleasure and honor to judge the Conference NSF Student Travel Scholarship nominations this year. Reading through these was nothing less than inspiring. The worse part of this process is having to turn a few students away since there are limited funds to give out and I’d like to fund all students with an interest in attending. The absolute best part was reading the student essays and the letters of recommendation. I'm going to have to read these from time to time to remind myself of what the future looks like.
It's also an amazingly diverse group of students by any measure you might choose; age, gender, ethnic background, country of origin, etc. What was really quite fun were the academic backgrounds – they are all over the academic map and not just traditional chemistry or chemical engineering. Some in the chemistry community point to this as failing of green chemistry, I point to it as a great strength. Clearly we are not going to solve the problems of the future by repeating the educational paradigms of the past. And lest you think we are not drawing from the best and the brightest, the cumulative grade point average is probably very close to 4.0. These students are also interested in outreach and have demonstrated that interest in a variety of activities.
This past week I also had the opportunity and privilege of speaking at the Federal Interagency Chemistry Representatives group annual meeting at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD. This year there was a focus on green chemistry, and it was certainly interesting to see all the things the various government agencies are doing that they feel is green chemistry related. I am hoping to do more with this group in the future as I believe there are opportunities to advance sustainable and green chemistry by working with the Federal Agencies.
I also had the privilege and honor of speaking at GreenCentre Canada's 2013 Sustainable Chemistry Summit, a bi-annual gathering, held in Montreal this year. The GreenCentre is a unique organization in that it works with academics and entrepreneurs to commercialize technologies that are greener. A big problem in commercializing technologies are the twin valleys of death; i.e., managing to move from proof of concept to pilot/demonstration scale, and then to bricks and mortar. This is, if you will, the last frontier of sustainable and green chemistry and engineering. If we don't figure out how to move through these valleys, we just are not going to see much change. It is great to see public-private partnerships like this and it certainly appears to be working for the GreenCentre and for Canada.
Attending GreenCentre's Summit, and other meetings like it, I am always struck by how much opportunity exists to move the world towards more sustainable practices. Often this opportunity is overshadowed by discussions of regulations, the failings of the educational system, the failure of the public to "get" sustainable and green chemistry and what I might describe as collective hand wringing about what's wrong or arguments about what is the correct definition for green or sustainable. I hope we can shift these discussions and the collective angst to more positive discussions about the progress we are making. Yes, perhaps progress is slow and we have a long way to go, but we are making progress.
As always, let me know what you think.
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