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Contributed by David Constable, Director, ACS Green Chemistry Institute®

 

In the past month there have been several notable events I’d like to talk about. On the 16th of October I was privileged to be a part of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. This year’s winners represent a collection of companies and technologies that are great models for the green chemistry and engineering community. Preceding the Awards ceremony was an EPA roundtable composed of the winning companies and a few guests that were allied to the growing biochemical economy. It was fascinating to see the vertical integration that was present around the table.

 

Renmatix, a previous award winner is commercializing technology to make cellulosic sugars of specific ratios available to companies who can use these sugars as a carbon source for different algal, yeast, bacterial or other microbial platforms. In the case of Solazyme, they are using an algal platform to produce a range of tailored oils for a multiplicity of specialty chemical end uses.  Not only can they reproduce oils like olive, palm or soy, but they can create novel mixtures that can be used for specific chemicals and targeted end uses. Stated another way, there is the potential to make a different kind of molecular diversity available to chemists as chemical building blocks.

 

Working from a different platform, in this case, yeast, Amyris is able to make a drop-in diesel replacement, farnesane, or specialty chemicals like squalene, a high value chemical for the cosmetics industry.The interesting thing about both these technologies and ones related to them is that they are not geographically restricted to being close to a fossil fuel source to produce the chemical, and sugar is readily available in most parts of the world. Parenthetically, another insight expressed by all the companies around the table, investment in their technology is greater outside the U.S. One needs to ask why U.S. companies receive such little support from within the U.S., but on the flip side, the good news is that there are willing investors in greener technologies throughout the rest of the world.

 

The remaining winners, The Solberg Company, QD Vision, and Professor Shannon Stahl, are all very deserving of a closer look.  The Solberg Company has produced a non-perfluorinated foam for Class B fire-fighting that is disruptive precisely because it is high performing, of equal cost, and has none of the environmental impacts of perfluorinated foam flame fighting agents. QD Vision is a model for how to commercialize a product that is intrinsically hazardous (it’s based on Cd), but in shifting to a nanoscale product, was able to make everything greener; the reagents used for manufacture, the manufacturing process, and the final product.  And, they did that all while making a higher performing product in terms of color saturation and energy consumption. They are a great example of evolutionary and disruptive technology in a crowded market space.

 

Professor Stahl spoke of his work in oxidation chemistry without reaching for a platinum group metal-based catalyst. As with many professors who are now doing green chemistry, Professor Stahl  backed into green chemistry through his interest in catalysis and the needs expressed through several pharmaceutical companies for oxidation catalysts that did not have the traditional environmental impacts associated with them.  In doing this work he discovered that green chemistry presents an enormous intellectual and academic challenge and requires the very best science to succeed. Whether we like it or not, academics in many R1 universities doing academic research have a very poor view of green chemistry. I am hopeful that as more examples like Professor Stahl ‘s become a reality, we will see a shift in how green chemistry is perceived amongst the academic research community.

 

I was also privileged to be a part of a small symposium organized by Dr. Mahmood Sabahi at Louisiana State University. Dr. Sabahi is working with a few professors at LSU and companies like Albemarle and BASF to raise the profile of green chemistry amongst academia and the chemical manufacturing industry in Louisiana. There is more work to be done but I am optimistic that Dr. Sabahi will succeed at creating the required momentum to have an effect. While in Baton Rouge I was invited to visit with scientists and engineers at Albemarle. Albemarle is working very hard to implement green chemistry and engineering practices throughout the company. Perhaps it’s because of their chemical history (Ethyl Corporation – tetraethyl lead; more recently brominated flame retardants) but they are much more attuned to green chemistry and engineering than many chemical companies. They are doing some great work and I look forward to hearing more about their many successes in implementing green chemistry and engineering in their business.

 

Last, but certainly not least, I was privileged to be a part of the Northwest Green Chemistry Center advisory board meeting in Tacoma, Wash. The Northwest Center is focused on making a difference in pollution to Puget Sound through implementation of green chemistry in the region. It is great to see a growing number of green chemistry centers and networks focusing their efforts to solve real-world problems.The application and implementation of green chemistry is a key to making the world more sustainable, and reminds me of the sustainability maxim that one needs to think globally but act locally. I am hopeful that the Northwest Center will make great progress over the next few years.

 

As always, let me know what you think.

 

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Chemists are striving to find unique, effective and eco-friendly ideas for creating sustainable polymers. Entrepreneurs, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre went outside the box when coming up with an innovative way to create a sustainable polymer, resulting in a material derived from fungi. Bayer and McIntyre started working with mycelium, a mushroom root structure, in 2007 while attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. They founded Ecovative Designs soon after; fast forward two years later, and Mushroom® Packaging/ Materials was born.

 

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This packaging material is made from mycelium mixed with agricultural bioproducts like corn stalks, rice husks, and sawdust, “our process occurs within just 5-7 days, in the dark, at room temperature, and without any human interaction. Local agricultural waste is brought to the facility where it is pasteurized and sorted by size particle,” according to Melissa Jacobsen, Ecovative Spokeswoman. Once added, this mixture is molded into the shape of the final product. The mycelium is used to turn the biomass into a rigid foam-like material.

 

The concept behind mushroom packaging is to create a sustainable material that is compostable but does not biodegrade while in use. Jacobsen noted the overall concept came from when Bayer used to shovel woodchips into a gasifier to produce maple syrup, “sometimes he would encounter clumps of woodchips stuck together by tenacious white fibers, which he later learned were mycelium- the vegetative growth stage of fungi. The mycelium was self-assembling into natural glue.” Ecovative Design has been researching ways to developed products ranging from packaging material, automotive resources, insulation and surfing technology, “mushroom Packaging is a high performing, cost competitive alternative to standard protective packaging foams including EPS, EPP, and EPE and Myco Bord, our engineered wood alternative.” Rather than using toxic and carcinogenic urea-formaldehyde to bind particles together, we’re using mycelium Companies who have been utilizing Mushroom Packaging include Dell, Crate & Barrel, and Steelcase.

 

 

Another entrepreneur working with this fungi is Phillip Gordon Ross of MycoWorks. Ross began working with mushrooms in the 90s while working as a chef (C&EN). According to Ross’ website, in 2009 he planned to create an entire building out of his fungal material, “over the next few years I will continue experiments to determine the fungi’s material qualities as well as figuring out how to propagate more complex forms.” A few products MycoWorks offers as building blocks, Mycelium Furnature, and Mycotecture.  Similarly, Ecovative Designs recently built a “Mushroom tiny house” made with mycelium insulation.

 

The folks over at Ecovative have dedicated themselves to spreading the word about this sustainable polymer and are providing grow it yourself kits (GIY) to the public, “through this new program, we’re offering genuine Ecovative Mushroom Materials to the world, so that you can make your own creations.” You can purchase a kit for $14 on their GIY website.

 

 

 

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A start-up company in Scotland is working to capitalize on the tons of waste produced by one of the country’s most valued industries and turn the dregs of whisky-making into fuel. Celtic Renewables, formed in 2011, has refined its process based on a century-old fermentation technique and is now taking the next step toward a commercial plant, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society.

 

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Ann M. Thayer, a senior correspondent with C&EN, points out that making whisky requires three ingredients: water, yeast and a grain, primarily barley. But only 10 percent of the output is whisky, and the rest is waste. Each year, the industry produces 500,000 metric tons of residual solids called draff and 1.6 billion liters of a yeasty liquid known as pot ale. These by-products are usually spread on agricultural lands, turned into low-grade animal feed or discharged into the sea.

 

Rather than inefficiently re-using these materials or letting them go to waste, Celtic Renewables has taken an old industrial process developed to turn molasses and other sugars into chemicals and fine-tuned it to convert draff and pot ale into acetone, 1-butanol and ethanol. The latter two can be used as fuel. The company is scaling up its process with the help of the U.K. Department of Energy & Climate Change, private funds and Bio Base Europe. If all goes well, a commercial facility could be next.

 

This story is available at: http://cenm.ag/remedy

 

From the ACS Office of Public Affairs

 

 

 

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Your next pair of spandex pants could be made out of corn — or, more precisely, from dextrose derived from corn. This option is part of a new wave, albeit a small one, of consumer goods that are being produced from plants rather than petroleum-based materials. But a complete transition to a biobased economy won’t be easy, according to an article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society.

 

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Melody M. Bomgardner, a senior editor at C&EN, notes that a range of companies, from start-up firms to industrial giants, have been searching for ways to fill a growing consumer demand for sustainable materials. Invista and Genomatica say they will pursue nylon intermediates from sugar. Coca-Cola is making progress toward a 100 percent biobased soda bottle (they’re already at 30 percent). But trading in all conventional materials for ones that might be more sustainable won’t be easy.

 

The main challenge to this shift is economics. Prices for biobased raw materials to feed the supply chain must drop to competitive levels. Manufacturers must invest in new facilities to process the raw materials. And ultimately, it’s the consumers’ pocketbooks that will likely decide just how far this trend will go.

 

This story is available at: http://cenm.ag/polymers

 

From the ACS Office of Public Affairs

 

 

 

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By Ann Lee-Jeffs, Founder, Sustainability Collaborative

 

A life without plastics in the 21st century society is a life that is unimaginable and unthinkable for most of us. Plastics are ubiquitous and they are an integral part of our lives: we eat with them, we sleep with them, we learn with them, we save lives with them, we wear them, we recycle them, we raise our kids with them, we ride with them and we do so many other things with them. They are in our homes, offices and communities. Our modern way of life and engineered plastics are inseparable; the value of the global market for engineering plastics is estimated to have increased to $90 billion by 2020, due to growing demands for lighter and more efficient materials.

 

Plastics improve the quality of our life and, at the same time, pose many levels of challenges to all living things on the planet. Plastics save lives; seat belts in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 12,174 lives in 2012. However, plastics can also cause harm to life; plastic garbage in the ocean kills as many as 1 million sea creatures every year.

 

As a society, we spend significantly more time and resources on making plastics into amazing products, compared to the time and resources we spend on repurposing, recycling and reusing spent plastics. We recycle only a few percent the total plastics we produce every year, and an increasing amount of spent plastics make their way to our ocean, causing harm to marine life. Green chemistry and engineering is one of the key pathways in which to design and develop solutions to innovate new products and, at the same time, significantly increase the rate in which we repurpose, recycle and reuse spent plastics we produce every day.

 

Imagine the world with a closed-loop system on plastic products enabled by policy, education, community and business to eliminate plastic waste altogether. A world with a closed-loop system on plastics may be as challenging for us to imagine as a world without plastics.

 

One small step we all can take in our lives at personal, professional and organizational levels is to evaluate some of the myths and have a better understanding of facts. Here are a few myths and realities on plastics that may help you to start to take this very important step:

 

Myth: Most, if not all, plastics are made with oil.

Reality: Seventy percent of plastic is made from natural gas. Eighty-five percent of the plastic bags produced in this country are made from domestic natural gas – not imported oil. Wegmans only uses bags made from natural gas and when recycled, they are made into new bags.

 

Myth: Paper bags are more eco-friendly than plastic bags

Reality: Paper bags consume more energy and water to in manufacturing, and produce more greenhouse gas emissions than plastic bags. While they are compostable, the recycling of paper bags results in a lower quality paper material and cannot be made into a bag again. Plastic bags have a lower environmental footprint in production and use, but can cause problems if not disposed of in a proper way. Reusable canvas bags may seem more eco-friendly, but you have to use the bag over 131 times to see the benefits. Reusable non-woven polypropylene or polyethylene bags (your typical synthetic reusable bag) may be the best bet—they are the most efficient choose after only 8-11 uses.

 

Myth: Recyclability is the primary factor for eco-friendly packaging.

Reality: There are many factors for eco-friendly packaging, and recyclability is one major demension. Take the example of yogurt producer Stonyfield Farm, which uses plastic #5, Polypropylene (PP), to package its products. Plastic #2, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is recycled more than PP. However, Stonyfield found that using PP resin resulted in 30% less plastic required than if it went with HDPE. That amounts to 100 tons of additional resin per year that would need to be manufactured, just to improve the chance of recyclability. Going with PP also reduced the weight of the cups, meaning less energy is required to transport the cups to stores.

 

Myth: All plastics collected to be recycled get recycled.

Reality: Not all plastics collected to be recycled get recycled. Take the example of spent healthcare plastic (e.g., packaging), even though they are collected and sent to the recyclers, there are a few factors that will prevent the collected healthcare plastic to be recycled. The factors include red-bag hospital wastes such as used syringes mixed in with the plastic packaging, or significant amount of paper adhesive tapes used in the packaging. The recycling centers are usually not equipped or licensed to decontaminate the plastic wastes before recycling, thus, if there are suspected contamination, they are sent back to the hospitals or an approved incineration facility for disposal. The paper tapes need to be taken off prior for the plastics are to be processed, and, generally, traditional recycling facilities do not have manpower to take the paper tapes by hand, as such, if there are excessive paper tapes, they are sent to a municipal waste facility.

 

Myth: Microbeads in some of the cleansing products some of us use to clean our bodies are the main cause of micro-size plastics in our rivers and ocean.

Reality: Small size plastics in our rivers and ocean cause harm to marine life; fish eat them thinking that they are food, and these tiny-size plastics are often coated with biomass which tend to accumulate contamination such as heavy metals. Majority of micro-size plastic particles in our rivers and ocean are result of the big plastic pieces (e.g., water bottles) breaking down by sun and the environment into small pieces. Microbeads of the cleaning products some of us use in our bathrooms are a very small part of the small size plastic particles in our rivers and oceans.

 

Myth: Bio-plastics are bio-degradable.

Reality: Landfills are designed so few items break down—even items labeled "biodegradable" or "compostable." Some packaging marked with those terms requires an industrial composting facility that maintains high temperature (usually 160°) for an extended period of time. That won’t happen in a landfill or backyard composting system, and there are very few industrial composting facilities where Wegmans has stores. At this time, a better packaging choice is often made of a renewable resource or recyclable material, which is then recycled by the consumer.

 

The points above represent only a sampling of the complex picture of plastics. Companies, scientists and consumers must make the best choices we can as we collectively work toward a cleaner, greener ecosystem for plastics. Consumers can increase our efforts to recycle (and reuse), companies can make educated decisions on lowering their overall plastic footprint and scientists will continue to find the most sustainable ways to produce and reuse resins.

 

References:

http://www.americanchemistry.com/Jobs/EconomicStatistics/Plastics-Statistics/Yea r-in-Review.pdf

 

http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/packaging/jennifer_elks/dell_mak ing_good_legacy_good_plan_carbon-negative_packaging_c http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140715-ocean-plastic-debris-tra sh-pacific-garbage-patch/

 

http://www.aaas.org/news/science-tiny-plastics-cause-big-problems-marine-environ ments http://saveourseas.com/threats/pollution

 

http://cen.acs.org/articles/92/i37/Breaking-Plastic-Bag-Habit.html

 

 

 

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Press Release contributed by Dr. Sally Humphreys, Business Development Manager, Applied Market Information Ltd.

 

Everyone is doing it – looking for better materials to become more sustainable. It is good for the environment and it is also good for the brands as consumers want to contribute to a better world. So how far has the renewable sourcing revolution gone for the plastics and elastomer industries? Professor Endres of the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites will outline the markets and the latest developments at the next international conference on Green Polymer Chemistry 2015 organised by AMI and taking place from 18-19 March 2015 in Cologne, Germany. Asia will be represented by Samsung Fine Chemicals – Dr. Hwang will give an overview of the bio-based plastics markets and the future potential in that region.

 

It is important to establish that any innovative product is more sustainable than the original fossil feedstock material. ISCC System has a method for evaluating the sustainability of bio-based products. The Chimex division of L’Oreal has also developed an Ecofootprint tool.

 

In packaging Amcor Flexibles has put together a method to measure the carbon footprint and other life cycle impacts.

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One new example of renewable sourcing is the bio-based food trays from Duni AB, in Sweden. On the polyolefin side, SABIC has entered this marketplace with certified renewable plastics. In other instances new alternative polymers are being proposed, for example, Professor Harlin of the VTT Technical Research Centre has developed a new oxygen barrier material, which is claimed to be superior to EVOH.

 

There are many plastics and elastomers that are already in widespread use, such as polyolefins, polyesters and polyamides, where bio-sourcing is now established for commercial monomers. Evonik and Radici Chimica are both leading examples of suppliers of polyamides including bio-based nylons. G.I. Dynamics has taken the first step towards bio-based PET. An alternative option to improve sustainability is to combine a new bioplastic with an existing material: Benecke-Kaliko has done this with a TPO/PLA blend foil for automotive interiors.

 

Besides “growing” plastics it is possible to recover chemicals from waste to close the loop and there are some great successes to celebrate in this area. The new start-up company QCP will discuss quality recovery of plastics, Carbon Clean Tech has produced carbon black additive from waste, and Enerkem has made the production of renewable chemicals from waste a commercial reality in Edmonton, Canada.

 

Innovative start-up companies and top universities have found new sources to make many of the basic thermoplastics, thermosets and elastomers. Verdezyne is synthesising renewable polyamide precursors, Yulex is developing guayule as a new industrial source of materials, TNO-BIORIZON is a project on furan chemistry aromatics, and the University of Wageningen is focusing on new polymers based on furandicarboxylic acids.

 

AMI’s forum for brand owners, manufacturers, the polymer industry and researchers reviews the available renewable thermoplastics and the future prospects at Green Polymer Chemistry 2015 from 18-19 March in Cologne, Germany.

 

 

 

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Contributed by Adam Halpert, Manager - Research, Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management, McGill Univeristy

 

While green chemistry is typically seen as the domain of chemists and chemical engineers, social scientists are actively exploring the policy and societal implications of sustainable materials through research, teaching and outreach. The Interdisciplinary Network for Green Chemistry (IN4GC) links scholars with an interest in green chemistry and, in particular, its broader business, economic, social and political implications.

 

IN4GC aims to bridge the gap between “hard” and “soft” science through interdisciplinary research and teaching about green chemistry. For example, it seeks to increase networking, research project development and publishing opportunities for scholars interested in examining green chemistry, including its adoption and impact on the global chemical enterprise, from social science perspectives. In December 2015, IN4GC is looking forward to organizing a lively interdisciplinary symposium at the PacifiChem conference.

 

IN4GC also develops teaching resources to help make green chemistry meaningful to non-technical audiences, including MBA students and executives; and to help make the business, economic, social and political contexts of green chemistry meaningful to chemists and chemistry students. One such example is McGill University’s annual “Sustainable Innovation through Green Chemistry” workshop and case competition. Since 2012 the Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management (MDIIM) and McGill’s Department of Chemistry have collaborated to host a two-day event that brings together MBA and chemistry graduate students to

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work on interdisciplinary teams to address a sustainability challenge, presented in the form of a case study. This year, engineering students will also

participate through the Trottier Institute for Sustainable Engineering and Design. With acclaimed keynote speakers, seminars that introduce technical topics to non-technical audiences, and a competition among the interdisciplinary student teams to develop compelling solutions that integrate both commercial and technical considerations, this unique event allows participants to gain a deeper understanding of how knowledge from multiple disciplines can be mobilized to address sustainability challenges, as well as how to collaborate across traditional boundaries to do so.

 

IN4GC is currently planning its activities for 2015-2016. Interested parties can contact anna.birnie-lefcovitch@mcgill.ca to learn more about becoming involved.

 

 

 

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Contributed by Jennifer Henderson, Director of Outreach, Education, and Diversity, Laura Seifert, Managing Director , and Marc Hillmyer, Director of the Center for Sustainable Polymers, University of Minnesota CSP

 

Polymers are long chain molecules comprised of smaller, repeating molecules called “monomers”. While many people associate polymers with plastic, polymers actually make up a variety of materials. Naturally occurring polymers include DNA, cellulose, and natural rubber; common synthetic polymers include polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene and are used to create many of the plastic items we use daily.

 

Synthetic polymers are traditionally derived from petroleum or natural gas, and the very properties that make these materials so desirable are also what make them environmentally challenged. These are versatile materials that are durable and strong, but they do not degrade and can persist in the environment for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. A sustainable polymer is a material that addresses the needs of plastic consumers without damaging our environment, health, or economy. Feedstocks for these types of polymers are renewable, such as carbohydrates from plants like corn or sugarcane. The challenge of creating sustainable plastics is to create products from renewable feedstocks, that use less water and non-renewable energy, emit less greenhouse gases, and have a smaller carbon-footprint, all while remaining as economically viable as their non-sustainable counterparts. Replacing traditional plastics with those made from sustainable polymers would have enormous impact, as global production of traditional plastics has continued to grow by nearly 5% per year over the past 20 years, reaching 265 million tonnes produced in 2010.1

 

At the Center for Sustainable Polymers (CSP), researchers concentrate their efforts on creating renewable, functional, degradable, and non-toxic polymers. These polymers can be incorporated into tomorrow’s advanced plastics, foams, adhesives, elastomers, and coatings. As the overarching goal of the CSP is to establish chemical principles that enable the efficient and economical conversion of biomass into sustainable polymers, the principles of green chemistry are a critical component of this research. The CSP aims to use renewable feedstocks in precise, controlled reactions to produce materials that compete with traditional plastics in terms of cost and performance, but are less hazardous and that can degrade in the environment.

 

The research of the CSP, and other groups like it, are part of a growing interest in sustainable plastics. Growth of the bioplastics industry is expected to range from 19% to over 30% per year.1 The majority of the market consists of polylactic acid (PLA) and compounded starch products. As the availability of sustainable polymers in industry continues to evolve and grow, many performance deficiencies of early compostable bioplastics are managed through innovative co-polymer blends. Companies continue to invest in the bioplastic market, such as Coca-Cola partnering with Virent, a producer of bio-based paraxylene, to create 100% biobased soda bottles.2

 

The need for sustainable polymers that can compete with traditional plastics is growing. Innovative research is exploring how both novel and established polymers can be created using renewable feedstocks, including a drive to move from food-based starch and sugars to non-food alternative sources. Researchers at the CSP and other universities, as well as leading industry partners, are meeting the challenge of developing the sustainable materials of tomorrow.

 

1Jim Lunt & Associates. (2014). Marketplace Opportunities for Integration of Biobased and Conventional Plastics. Research Report by the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute.

 

2Coca-Cola Corporate. (2011). The Coca-Cola Company Announces Partnerships to Develop Commercial Solutions for Plastic Bottles Made Entirely From Plants. [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.coca-colacompany.com/press-center/press-releases/the-coca-cola-compan y-announces-partnerships-to-develop-commercial-solutions-for-plastic-bottles-mad e-entirely-from-plants

 

 

 

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