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Last month I mentioned that I was looking forward to the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy that was held the week of July 22nd, and now I can report it was, once again, an unqualified success. There was a great mix of talks and I think the students were appropriately challenged to think about things they don’t normally contemplate. (As a side note, I think Principle #6 is one of the green chemistry principles that most chemists don’t think enough about, so to integrate sustainable energy and green chemistry is a very good thing.) The students also engaged in an assessment of a few chemical processes to get them thinking about what kind of information and effort goes into performing a life cycle assessment.


For me personally, one of the most enlightening parts of the week was the poster sessions.  During these sessions, students were able to discuss their work with each other and with the faculty. For the most part, the work carried out by the students was a good indication of how much or little green chemistry and engineering principles are being applied in the Universities the students represented.  Suffice it to say that there is a lot of implementation work to be done in graduate level research. I was reminded that one of the biggest barriers is what I would classify as institutional inertia.  No matter how you look at it, the rewards and benefit systems for graduate level and post-doctoral research are not based in green chemistry and engineering and in many respects, are opposed to it. This has to change.


Another highlight for the month was to organize the review of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. (Disclaimer: I am not a judge; the ACS GCI partners with the US EPA to identify appropriate judges from academia, government and industry) It is quite uplifting to see the nominations and to think about the many and varied innovations they represent. These nominations represent on a small scale the considerable progress that has been made in implementing green chemistry and engineering by businesses of all sizes. No single nomination has ever managed to fulfill all the principles of green chemistry and engineering, but it is my observation that the nominations are incorporating more of them than was the case in the past.


It’s also interesting to see the span of applications across many disciplines. This too is encouraging since it demonstrates that green chemistry and engineering can and should be applied in all parts of the chemical enterprise, from the development of new chemical building blocks, to end-of-life considerations for existing and new products. More companies are thinking about what they do from a life cycle (i.e., cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle) perspective and that is a very good sign.


There’s always something happening in green chemistry and engineering and it’s a great privilege to witness some of it first-hand.  I hope that you might share with me some of the things that you see and think are demonstrating progress in sustainable and green chemistry and engineering implementation. As always, please do let me know what you think.






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Ethanol from corn and other plants could become the sustainable, raw material for a huge variety of products, from plastic packaging to detergents to synthetic rubber, that are currently petroleum-based. This was the conclusion of an article published in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.


Yingzhe Yu and colleagues point out that a chemical called ethylene, now produced from petroleum, is one of the most important raw materials for everyday products. Ethylene is used to make hundreds of products, including polyethylene, the world’s most widely used plastic. Scientists have been seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum for making ethylene, and Yu’s team reviewed progress in the field.


They found that one particular device has the potential to make a highly pure ethylene product from ethanol with high efficiency and low cost. The device, called a fluidized bed reactor, works by suspending the chemicals needed to make ethylene inside the walls of a chamber. Newly produced ethylene exits through a pipe, while the rest of the material remains to continue production. Yu’s team discusses progress toward commercial use of such devices, noting that there would be “great significance” for promoting economic development.


Read the abstract, "Dehydration of Ethanol to Ethylene."


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, 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.

Summer is an especially good time to be a green chemist. June brought us the 17th ACS Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference. And in the last week of July, sixty graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from the United States, Latin America and Canada gathered at the ACS Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy Summer School at the Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO). Tina Norris and Dr. Mary Kirchoff were instrumental in organizing this week-long summer school.


We were welcomed with an opening barbeque in the evening (with delicious food and free Belgian beer!).The next morning, Dr. Ryan Richards kicked off the summer school with an introduction to the summer school program and Colorado School of Mines, its fascinating culture (the M climb), and its surrounding (NREL, NEIC-USGS, the beautiful hiking trails, and of course the Coors brewery). Throughout the week, we had many engaging discussions led by green chemistry practitioners from academia, government research laboratories as well as the industry. Dr. Richards talked about green catalysis using nanostructures and shared his experiences on academic writing (“Zen and the Art of Scientific Writing”). Dr. Bryan Pivovar and Dr. Mark Nimlos from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory discussed the current research on fuel cells and biofuels. And we also got to see Dr. Pivovar’s fuel cell powered car. Neat!

We had fascinating lectures on novel green solvents and quantifying greenness using life cycle assessment (Dr. Tamer Andrea), principles of green chemistry (Dr. Kirchoff),

ionic liquid and ‘greening’ fossil fuels (Dr. Joan Brennecke), green separation techniques (Dr. Kim Williams) and grant writing (Dr. Nancy Jensen, from the ACS Office of Research Grants). Dr. Ken Doxsee, talked about his experiences and the challenges in successfully incorporating green chemistry into academic curricula. Dr. David Constable, the director of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute, gave an eye-opening talk on depleting resources and the urgent need to incorporate green chemistry at the molecular level in laboratories, pilot-plants and industries. Alan Philips from Arizona Chemicals discussed the current state of the pine chemicals and the how green approaches are practiced in their organization. And who can forget the two crackling talks by Dr. Eric Beckman, where he discussed how a promising idea can be turned into a business, especially entrepreneurship vis-a-vis green products. Absolutely riveting.

The ACS has valuable resources for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Dr. Corrie Kuniyoshi discussed several such resources and how we could avail them. I highly recommend checking out their website and newsletter. (Also, keep an eye the summer school website for updates for next year.)


Besides the lectures, we had a group activity (*cough* homework *cough*) that gave us a taste of life cycle assessment and the challenges in quantifying sustainability. We had poster sessions where we discussed our research, got feedback from students and the instructors and most importantly, got a flavor of the current ‘hot’ topics being researched today. It was easily the most laid back and interactive poster sessions I’ve attended.

But it was not all lectures and homework - we also had soccer, line dancing (which I chickened out of. Sorry Tina!), a guided tour of the Coors brewery and regular trips to downtown Golden (especially the Mountain Toad). On the weekend, the mornings were free and folks went to see the Buffalo Bill Day parade and went hiking. Sunday evening arrived too soon and before we realized, we were at the closing dinner, saying goodbye.

I will cherish this unique learning experience; it was great to meet fellow lovers of green chemistry from different countries. Our stay on campus at Maple Hall couldn't have been more comfortable, and I miss not having to cook and just heading off to the Slate Cafe for food. I came away rejuvenated, with a deeper understanding of how green chemistry principles and approaches need to pervade every sphere, and what tools we have available to address the issues about sustainability. The summer school was, as Dr. Richards would say: “Totally awesome!”


Mary and Tina: Thank you so much for making the summer school experience unforgettable. It was an absolute delight to meet you both and I am thankful for this opportunity to attend the summer school this year. I would also like to thank the folks at the Colorado School of Mines for being such gracious hosts.





(I am a member of the Virginia Tech Sustainable Nanotechnology (VTSuN) group. You can participate in our conversations and stories about sustainability and green nanotechnology on our blog.)


“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.

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