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Since the passage of the California Green Chemistry legislation I've noticed a significant uptick in activities related to the presence of toxic substances in consumer products brought to the public's attention by this law being enacted. The number of trade groups, associated companies, and other groups who have suddenly come alive to the central tenant of the law – alternatives assessment – is rather interesting. It's not as though the idea of toxic substances in consumer products is a new issue, and the idea of alternatives assessment has been developed for a while, most notably in the US in response to the Toxics Use Reduction legislation in Massachusetts. The latest foray into this will start tomorrow, on the November 15th, as an NRC Committee is being convened on the Design and Evaluation of Safer Chemical Substitutions.  It will be worth following the activities and outcomes of the Committee.



A National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Institute of Occupational Medicine symposium held on the 7th and 8th of November on "Identifying and reducing environmental health risks of chemicals in our society" was also extremely enlightening.  Despite many advances in toxic substances reduction across a variety of areas, there was much that was discussed that has been discussed for the past 25 years or more and still needs to be addressed. On the one hand, this could be surprising to some; on the other hand, it really is a reflection of a systemic issue. And that issue is this:  you don't have to go too far back in the chemical supply chain to find toxic substances – it’s just the way chemistry is done and has been done for a very long time.  As I observe at many symposia and conferences like the NIEHS IOM symposium last week, there are rarely any chemists in the room when large numbers of people are talking about toxic and hazardous substances. The people who are making molecules and using various metals, reagents, solvents, etc. use what they use because that is what they have always done.



To state the situation very simplistically, on one side you have the steady drumbeat of the Occupational Medical Community, Environmental Health scientists, a variety of advocacy groups, and others trying to influence government policy and enact chemicals legislation. On the other side, you have a community, chemists, chemical producers, etc. whose way of working is seen as business as usual, and they feel that there is nothing wrong with it because they have been managing exposures to toxic substances and thereby reducing the risk of consumer and environmental exposure to toxic substances in consumer products. It's a recipe for gridlock, and that is generally what occurs.



That is, of course, the reason for sustainable and green chemistry to be more broadly supported, accepted as the only way to do chemistry, and all chemists, chemical engineers and the companies or organizations that employ them need to change business as usual. This is possible but we need to get beyond the one molecule, element or product at a time approach that we have been taking. It's a systemic issue and unless we address the root causes, we will not make a lot of progress. Yes, we are making progress, but think how much more could be done if chemists became truly alive to the problem at hand. We need your help, and I look forward to working with you to reimagine how chemistry is done so we can move towards a brighter, more sustainable future.



As always, let me know what you think.




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Meike Niggemann, a Junior-Professor at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, has been selected as the 2013 ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable Distinguished Lecturer. The ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable recognizes a professor whose research is very highly regarded by the pharmaceutical industry. In addition to a monetary award, the Roundtable funds the winner’s travel during a lecture tour to member companies in the selected region; this year's region is the EU.

Ms. Niggemann graduated from the Technical University of Dortmund in 2003 and received her doctoral degree in synthetic organic chemistry from the same university in 2007 under the supervision of Professor Dr. B. Plietker. After finishing her dissertation, she joined Prof. Dr. S.F. Martin’s group at the University of Texas at Austin as a Postdoctoral fellow in fall 2007. After wrapping up her work in the Lone Star state, Ms. Niggemann returned to Europe to begin her independent career as a chemistry professor in 2009.


meike.jpgProf. Meike Niggemann


The RWTH Aachen University Niggemann group’s overall goal is to provide sustainable alternatives to transition metal catalyzed reactions. This lectureship will feature her research on the development of new organic reactions catalyzed by early main group metals. “It is surprising how very little is known about the catalytic activity of early main group metals such as lithium, potassium, magnesium and calcium,” says Niggemann. “This might be attributed to the fact that these elements have limited chemical properties, compared to the metals that are typically used as catalysts, rendering them at first sight less attractive. Nevertheless, increasing pressure regarding cost efficiency and environmental safety calls for a substitution of precious metals wherever it is possible.”


Calcium is the Niggemann’s group element of choice as it is non-toxic, biocompatible, abundant, and inexpensive. The newest Niggemann calcium based Lewis acidic catalyst was created specifically to generate highly reactive carbocationic intermediates. It is a highly reactive and potent catalyst, but distinct from previous efforts in that it is relatively tolerant of air and moisture. The high potency of the calcium catalyst allowed for the development of new carbocation rearrangements reactions that are similar to processes moderated by precious metals or enzymes. This is of interest to the pharmaceutical industry because it presents a powerful tool for the single-step generation of complex molecular architectures from simple starting materials that, until now, were only a domain of precious metal catalysis. She and her team were the first to successfully apply calcium salts as highly efficient Lewis acidic catalysts in organic syntheses.


“We are very excited to have Professor Niggemann as the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable Distinguished Lecturer,” said Juan Colberg the Director of Technology and Innovation in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Division at Pfizer, and a Roundtable co-chair. “The use of metal catalyzed cross-coupling reactions is an indispensable tool for the synthetic organic chemist. Most of the available protocols use precious metals to catalyze these transformations. High cost, limited supplies, and human toxicity are just some of the drivers to develop more environmentally benign alternatives. The lack of proven, robust methods to perform these reactions using more benign and sustainable conditions makes Professor Niggemann’s research an important one as it aims to develop reaction protocols to perform these types of transformations without the need of precious metals. ”


Ms. Niggemann is scheduled to tour in spring 2014, presenting to eleven of the 15 Pharmaceutical Roundtable member companies. She will be discussing various applicable transformations and how her catalyst is more active than other Lewis acidic catalysts, which is exemplified by a broad substrate scope and mild reaction conditions. “We are very excited to present our first efforts of breaking ground in this new area of chemistry to industry,” says Niggemann, “as our biggest dream is to one day see large-scale implementation of our chemistry.”



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CO2 image.jpgReusing the major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial plants — rather than releasing its warming potential into the environment — is on the verge of becoming a commercial reality. Several large chemical companies in Germany and small start-ups in the U.S. are leading the way, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly news magazine of the American Chemical Society.


Alex Scott, C&EN’s senior editor for Europe, points out that German firms are at the forefront thanks partly to an infusion of cash from the government encouraging academic-industrial collaborations to develop CO2-based processes. Within the next few years, chemical giants including BASF and Bayer expect to roll out new processes to use waste CO2 to make plastics, additives, fuels, and other materials in a more energy-efficient and cost-effective way.


The article notes that unlike their established counterparts across the Atlantic, the U.S. pioneers in this burgeoning sector are start-ups. Illinois-based LanzaTech is developing a process to convert CO2 back into useful chemicals such as acetic acid, an important substance used in industrial processes. Novomer, based in Massachusetts, plans to commercialize its products, including a raw material for plastics, as early as next year.


This story is available at:



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All over the country, chemistry undergraduate students are doing green chemistry outreach and activities as part of their ACS Student Chapters. To recognize their efforts, ACS GCI presents a Green Chemistry award to chapters that have done at least three green chemistry activities over the last school year. This year there were 74 winners—the most ever! Of these, 24 were first-time winners, showing the growth of interest in green chemistry among students.


Examples of what the ACS Chapters achieved this year include the following events and programs:


  • Students at Wilkes University promoted green chemistry through green demonstrations at local elementary and middle schools.
  • Alvernia University celebrated Green Chemistry Week with students participating in a green chemistry scavenger hunt. Hunt requirements had them signing about green chemistry in the cafeteria and teaching people in the local mall about the 12 principles.
  • At the University of Toledo, the chapter played a role in a STEM camp for high school students who spent a week at the school learning about various scientific fields including green chemistry and engineering.


The Green Chemistry Award for ACS student chapters started in the 2001-2002 academic year, with only four winners. Since then, only one school, the University of Tennessee at Martin, has won every year—12 times in total! There are 14 other schools that have received the award over five times: Ferris State, Hendrix, Millikin, Suffolk, U of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras, Augustana, U of Pittsburgh, South Texas, Texarkana, U of Arizona – Tucson, Union, U of Toledo, U of Puerto Rico – Arecibo, and Western Washington.


Keep up the good work all!


ACS GCI’s Jennifer MacKellar and Dr. David Constable presenting a

Green Chemistry Award in New Orleans, April 2013,

to Florida International University, Biscayne Bay an ACS Student Chapter representative.

Photo credit: Christine Brennan Schmidt



“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.


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Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality awarded its Green Chemistry Governor Award 2013 in the Education Category to the University of Michigan, Office of Campus Sustainability (OSC).


OCS received the award for its continued efforts to make U-M laboratories more sustainable via the Sustainable Lab Certification Program, which promotes operations related to pollution prevention, waste minimization, green purchasing, recycling, green chemistry, treatment and disposal.


UM Governor Award.jpg

Andrew Berki (left) and Dr. Sudhakar Reddy (right) receiving an award from Dan Wyant (MDEQ Director)

Some of the benefits of the program include reduction in the use and generation of hazardous materials, reduced consumption of energy and utilities, and improved safety for students, faculty, and staff.


“The program is built on general principles that can be transferred to other research or teaching laboratories in the State of Michigan, even across the globe, to improve the health and Safety of lab occupants while reducing impact on the environment,” said OSC manager, Andy Berki.


OCS has helped more than 60 labs apply green chemistry and waste/energy reduction principles along with operational, administrative, and behavioral modifications to achieve short and long term sustainability efficiencies.


The program addresses two of the four broader University-wide sustainability goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce landfill waste.


The award was presented at the 2013 Michigan Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference on October 24 in Grand Rapids.



“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.

For those of you unfamiliar with thelogo-green-retina.jpg process of dragging a company kicking and screaming through a university system, it requires people that believe in what you are doing (both from the university Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) and from your own team), and people that you believe in. It requires strong intellectual property, disclosures and patents of that intellectual property, careful and considerate navigation through the university’s conflict of interest maze (especially complicated if you and/or your partners are university employees). You need a successful proof of concept, a structuring plan for the company, and all the legal paperwork to create the business entity and build your team. Then, you must seek license agreements with the university in order to actually use your technology to manufacture and sell your products, find lab space to make the products, and (it should be the first on the list because nothing happens without it) money. Easy enough, right? Before you know it, it has been years since you first disclosed your invention with the university and the light at the end of the tunnel is so far off you may actually be confusing it with the white spots igniting in your brain from lack of sleep, too much caffeine, and being more overwhelmed than an ant lifting a fifteen-passenger van.


RULE #3: Build/recruit a strong team and trust their expertise.


Many people assume that I must have some business experience to even want to start this company. Perhaps an MBA? Maybe an entrepreneurship degree? Maybe some common sense? Nope. None of those. Except for some entrepreneur workshops and conferences focusing on green chemistry startups, I am almost 100% pure synthetic organic chemist. What I do have is a technology that works, a technology I am confident in, a market that will support my company, an unfaltering passion for what I do, and a confidence in the company that does not weaken. I also have a great team of advisors and teachers that have expertise in company startups, scale-up and production, intellectual property and patent law, as well as professional experience in COO and CEO positions. While some of these advisors do not have a specific role with the company, they were suggested by Tech Launch Arizona (the University of Arizona’s technology transfer and commercialization arm) for their experience and knowledge to make sure we got sound advice and guidance regarding markets, incorporation, intellectual property, etc. While we are still a little ways off from our final goal, I have learned a lot from these experts.


Being a chemist who has worked for years on projects and research in an individual capacity, it was difficult to accept that I would need as much help as I do to get this company going. However, it was – and still is – important to understand one’s own limitations. For example, I am no accountant, attorney, or engineer. I cannot run the company on my own. But with the help of your university’s connections, and the connections you have made along the way, you can put together a team of experts as passionate about your company as you are and as willing to trust you to do your part as you are that they will do theirs.


RULE #4:  Do not assume you know everything


That brings me to my next rule. Please do not assume that you are already an expert in business and marketing or that you have any idea what you are doing in the business side of things if you are a scientist. If there is a time to grow as an entrepreneur, it is during these early stages of company development. I guarantee that the first time you learned to walk you did not look to your parents and proclaim that you already knew how. Starting a company is the same thing. In a business setting, being a young know-it-all entrepreneur could be hugely detrimental to the success of your company. Instead, you need to ask questions, get opinions and feedback, listen and absorb information, and build your knowledge as an entrepreneur. If it had not been for some early discussions I had with retired employees of several major surfactant manufacturers, I would still be chasing inappropriate markets and trying to incorporate a product unsuitable for the customer demand; both a market and a product I was convinced would be the initial targets.


While it is important to know your technology and the chemistry associated with it, many of your team, the university technology transfer folks, many of your advisors, and most investors do not want to hear the scientific details. They came to talk to a business professional and entrepreneur. So be one. Embrace the inevitable truth that you can no longer be 100% chemist, but instead that you must learn to be a chemist 50% of the time and an entrepreneur the other 50%. For those of you who wish to hold a position in your company higher than Chief Science Officer, you are likely to find that your job will demand an even higher percentage of entrepreneur, maybe even as much as 100%.


RULE #5:  Do not give up


While I am unable to predict the future success of any startup (even my own), I can say with absolute confidence that it will be a lot of work to get there. Therefore, my final rule may be the one that you must constantly tell yourself. While it may feel as if you are trapped in a rat maze and that every turn you take is a dead end, you cannot be discouraged. If your technology is feasible and you keep moving forward, one of those turns is bound to get you one step further towards where you want to go. It has been a long four years now since I first took a multi-step, expensive, and dangerous synthesis, with a large environmental impact (the bad kind), and modified it into a “greener,” low cost, scalable, and reproducible process for producing “green soap.” Only just now does it appear that the dream I had so long ago might actually come true. In that time, I have dealt with many issues, including problems with reaction reproducibility, optimization, and scalability; stalled disclosures of the technology as our university technology transfer arm underwent a complete reorganization; and the lack of funds for further proof of concept experiments, capital equipment, lab space. Through all of this, I was trying to start a company while maintaining a day job to keep getting a paycheck. All of this can be daunting and discouraging, but the key is to forge on and – as another mentor of mine said – “don’t fight the tape”.


As things progress and you begin to succeed in what you set out to do, the workload becomes larger and the days longer. But, keep reminding yourself that this is what you really want to do. If you are like me, what you are trying to accomplish is not just for you, but for everyone involved. It is for the betterment of your community and, hopefully, the world. And if you are like me and work hard to remain focused on what you want to achieve, always remember the mission of your company and never stop defending it -- especially if you are planning to take a stance for “green” products and processes for your company. Never give up! Even when it sometimes seems like the people around you might be giving up. You will eventually be able to discern the light at the end of the tunnel from the other white spots in your vision.

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