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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