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The ACS Green Chemistry Institute® is officially launching a new roundtable today: The ACS GCI Hydraulic Fracturing Roundtable. Building off of the successful roundtable model—the new roundtable will identify opportunities for the oil and gas industry to use green chemistry and engineering in hydraulic fracturing.


Current founding members of the ACS GCI Hydraulic Fracturing Roundtable include:

    • Apache Corporation, Houston, Texas
    • The Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Michigan
    • Marathon Oil Corporation, Houston, Texas
    • Nalco Holding Co., Naperville, Illinois, a full subsidiary of Ecolab Inc.
    • Rockwater Energy Solutions Inc., Houston, Texas
    • Trican Well Service, Calgary, Canada


New members are welcome to join at any time; To be considered a founding member, companies must apply by December 31, 2014.


This scientific collaboration will seek to enable informed decisions about those chemicals commonly employed in hydraulic fracturing and will work to promote the prioritized development of more sustainable chemical alternatives.


“Green chemistry is also safer chemistry,” says Danny Durham, director of Global Upstream Chemicals, Apache and co-chair of the new roundtable. “The roundtable will focus on improving the environmental footprint of the industry by funding academic research for safer alternatives, sharing scientific information, developing tools that help operators make good choices and communicating the facts with key stakeholders.”


The ACS GCI convenes roundtables to provide member companies with a scientific-focused organization better positioned to prioritize research needs, inform the research agenda and reduce the cost of green chemistry and engineering tools specific to the industry.


“It is important to bring third-party credibility, good science and good research to this whole area of hydraulic fracturing,” says David Long, co-chair of the roundtable and ACS GCI Governing Board member. “The roundtable offers a way for competitive companies to come together and work collaboratively to use green chemistry to address common non-competitive issues and research needs.”


Other ACS GCI Roundtables include the Pharmaceutical Roundtable, Formulators’ Roundtable and Chemical Manufacturer’s Roundtable.


“Given the high level of public concern about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, moving toward chemicals with less toxicity can not only reduce business risks and save money, but can also enable hydraulic fracturing companies to speak directly to the public's concern,” says Richard Liroff, executive director of the Investor Environmental Health Network, who helped facilitate the roundtable's formation.


Green chemistry and engineering principles help scientists find ways to reduce or eliminate toxicity, conserve energy, reduce waste and consider the impact of chemical products and processes throughout their life cycle.


More information can be found at



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The 2014 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards (PGCCA) have come and gone, celebrating the innovative research and accomplishments made by chemists in industry and academia. Among these chemists, Dr. Shannon Stahl, winner in the Academic category, has paved a dynamic path to where he is today. Stahl is currently a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the Department of Chemistry. He earned his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology and was a NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


In 2011, Stahl’s research on aerobic oxidation chemistry received a $150,000 grant from ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable. The roundtable brings companies together to encourage innovation in green chemistry and engineering in the pharmaceutical industry. The grants the Roundtable awards are designed to help advance key green chemistry research areas of importance to the industry. “What the Pharmaceutical Roundtable funding allowed us to do was to kick-start an effort in copper catalysis. We had previously focused on palladium chemistry, but the GCI funding allowed a look at complementary approaches to aerobic oxidation using copper, specifically for alcohol oxidation reactions,” says Stahl.


The Pharmaceutical Roundtable was the first of several sources of support Stahl obtained for this research, with subsequent funding coming from the Department of Energy, the Dreyfus Foundation, as well as a pre-competitive consortium with three pharmaceutical companies--Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and Merck. These groups contributed to an aerobic oxidation consortium, which provided a substantial jump in funding to actually go after this project to expand and also achieve a greater level of focus. “I think it was really the Pharmaceutical Roundtable seed money was really important because it got the ball rolling.”


The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards are given every year by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to those who exemplify the promotion of environmental and economic efforts in green chemistry. Stahl’s award for his academic research this year was for developing catalytic methods that replace toxic chemical oxidants with oxygen from the air. “This work provided a greener approach to something that could be done by other methods. I think an even bigger challenge is to come up with aerobic methods to carry out reactions that simply are not possible by any other method that essentially, is not just making a green reaction, but you’re also really changing the way people make molecules.”


Aerobic alcohol oxidations are one of the most common type of oxidation reactions in organic chemistry, according to Stahl. While there are non-aerobic methods to do alcohol oxidation, part of the reason Stahl pursued this application is because pharmaceutical companies are likely to encounter these reactions multiple times in a given year. Stahl notes that this increases the chance that pharma would consider performing an aerobic oxidation.


Stahl mentioned that what drives him as a chemist is his interest in understanding nature and learning how to manipulate and utilize it to discover new principles of reactivity. “When you’re successful at the fundamental science level, especially in an area like catalysis and chemical synthesis, very often it will be intrinsically green. If it’s not green, there's a good chance that people are not going to use it.”





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Once again, the ACS Green Chemistry Institute® is holding the only business plan competition exclusively devoted to green and sustainable chemistry and engineering. Early stage, pre-revenue companies who are reimagining chemistry and innovating for a sustainable future are encouraged to apply with their green business idea.


Judges will be looking for possible solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges like reducing our dependence on critical elements in chemical processes, transforming renewable or waste feedstocks into valuable chemicals, reducing hazardous chemical inputs in products and processes, minimizing energy use and emissions, and more.


Round One requires all applicants to submit an Executive Summary and pitch video.

Applications are due February 25, 2015 5:00 p.m. EDT (GMT -4)

For more details on how to apply, please visit the GC&E Business Plan Competition website.


Semi-finalists who are accepted to compete in Round Two will develop a full business plan and participate in the competition’s social media campaign. In addition to the chance to win prize money and market your company to the green chemistry community, the competition provides access to experienced entrepreneurs, industrial leaders, intellectual property law experts, and early stage investors who are involved in green and sustainable chemistry. All semi-finalists will also be expected to attend the final competition, which will take place July 15, 2015 on-site at the 19th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in the Washington, DC.


Don’t miss this opportunity to receive business plan training and high-end constructive comments, and to make valuable business connections. And of course, win BIG money.


Learn more about the 2014 Business Plan Competition winner and their progress since the competition!




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Earlier this year, the ACS GCI held their business plan competition as part of the annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference. There were four finalists, all of which convened in Washington, DC to pitch their companies for the title and $10,000 grand prize. The teams were scored on their business plans and final presentations in addition to a score for social media. The ACS GCI believes that everyone has a stake in the success of innovative technologies that will change the way business is done to be more sustainable. So all semi-finalists participate in a crowdfunding campaign for the competition that not only boosts the grand prize winnings, but helps market their technology and spread the message of how green chemistry can and will change the world.


The 2015 competition is now open—click here for details on how to apply or sponsor the entrepreneurs who can make our chemical enterprise more sustainable!


The winner of the 2014 competition was SioTeX, a start-up firm developing a drop-in replacement for fumed silica, a popular additive for paints, tires, and plastics. Headquartered in San Marcos, Texas, SioTeX will produce and distribute Eco-Sil, an environmentally friendly alternative to fumed silica manufactured from rice hulls, a renewable resource. Lisa Taylor (VP of Sales and Marketing) and Ash Kotwal (VP of Manufacturing) represented the start-up at the competition. Even before they arrived, they had solidified a lead with their social media score (receiving nearly 75% of the crowdfunding votes, directly raising over $2,300). On-site the duo continued to represent their company well, delivering a succinct and well-organized pitch, highlighting their science and business opportunity. Read about their experience at the competition and what has happened in the six months since:


SioTeX decided to participate in the 2014 ACS GCI Green Chemistry & Engineering Business Plan Competition due to our energy-efficient production method that reduces pollution and utilizes rice hulls as a raw material source. The business plan competition was dedicated to green chemistry and engineering and focused on sustainability-oriented entrepreneurship. This focus aligns with the SioTeX objective of transforming the specialty silica industry through the use of sustainable manufacturing practices.

The competition proved to be a valuable experience by providing additional validation of our innovative technology and further demonstrating the company’s ability to effectively communicate its corporate strategy. Additionally, it was beneficial to network with professional and student members of the American Chemical Society. Their feedback regarding our business plan and presentation was positive and constructive. Other than receiving the Grand Prize, our favorite part of the business plan competition was helping the Green Chemistry Institute raise awareness about green chemistry and engineering through the crowdfunding aspect of the competition. We are so grateful that we were given the opportunity to present our company. The competition helped SioTeX move forward by providing supplementary funding for startup expenses as well as meaningful connections with relevant academic and industry representatives.


Our greatest challenges as a startup company have been related to raising money, establishing the company infrastructure, scaling production, and building relationships with potential customers. To overcome these challenges, SioTeX established an interdisciplinary team that is supported by excellent mentors and consultants. To complete the seed round of investment, it was critical to compete in multiple business plan competitions, establish connections with angel investor networks, and effectively communicate the opportunity that our business strategy provides. When establishing the company infrastructure, we relied strongly on our existing relationship with Texas State University and leveraged it to establish our pilot plant on campus. SioTeX is currently in the process of scaling production of Eco-Sil from the laboratory to the pilot plant. We have found that it requires creativity, patience, and a systems thinking style to reduce variability and produce a quality product.


Following the competition, the founding members of SioTeX have been diligently working to launch our business. Since the competition, we have had several major successes, including completing our seed round fundraising efforts, beginning construction of our pilot plant, manufacturing our first batches of high quality Eco-Sil samples, and establishing relationships with potential future clients. SioTeX successfully pitched our business plan to several investor groups and raised the capital necessary to launch the company. Our technical team has been busy engineering and constructing the pilot plant in addition to producing Eco-Sil samples for our primary target markets. We are conducting initial prospecting within several markets and have received interest from a number of companies regarding qualification testing of Eco-Sil in their formulations. Ash Kotwal, Vice President of Manufacturing for SioTeX, represented the company at the Greater San Marcos Partnership’s Innovation Summit in November, where SioTeX was nominated as a finalist for the Second Annual Burdick Award.


SioTeX has many objectives and milestones outlined for the 2015 calendar year. We will continue to produce samples of Eco-Sil in our pilot plant and increase sales efforts within our initial target markets. We will be pursuing an additional round of funding in 2015 in order to construct our full scale production plant. The technical team’s focus will be on engineering and scaling logistics essential for the successful establishment of our production plant. We will also remain focused on cultivating and developing partnerships with raw material suppliers.


As the producer of an eco-friendly alternative to fumed silica, green chemistry and engineering are essential to our company’s founding principles and objectives. SioTeX is focused on combining green technology, efficient and energy saving processes, recycling, and the utilization of bio-waste to create a valuable product. We recognize the global need and demand for sustainable technologies and the solutions that green chemistry can provide across industries. SioTeX values and incorporates the principles and practices of green chemistry into all aspects of our production process. As our company grows, we hope to continue to improve our efficiencies and sustainable practices. We are very appreciative to the ACS GCI organizers for selecting our company to compete in the business plan competition. SioTeX looks forward to following the efforts of ACS GCI in addition to following the competition entries in 2015.”


If you would like to apply for the 2015 competition or sponsor the next generation of innovative green chemistry and engineering entrepreneurs, visit the GC&E Business Plan Competition website and/or contact Savannah Sullivan.




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Drexel University, Yale, Augsburg College, and University of Massachusetts Students win Competitive Green Chemistry Travel Award


Four out of 33 U.S. students have been chosen to receive the 2014 Ciba Travel Award in Green Chemistry. These students, ranging from undergraduates to doctorates, have shown significant abilities to incorporate creative green chemistry solutions into their research. Administered by the American Chemical Society (ACS)’s Green Chemistry Institute®, the Ciba Travel Award enables students with an interest in green chemistry to travel to an ACS scientific conference with a specific green chemistry component.


The students will have opportunities to expand their education by attending symposia, networking and presenting their research. This year’s awardees’ research areas include green chemistry and engineering, environmental science, polymers and renewable materials.


The winners:


Boris Dyatkin, from Montgomery, Pennsylvania, is a Ph.D. candidate at Drexel University studying materials science and engineering. He will be presenting research on an environmentally friendly supercapacitor composed entirely of “green” materials and dual-intercalation, all-graphite batteries for grid storage applications at the 250th ACS National Meeting, August 16-18, 2015, in Boston.






Laurene Petitjean is a first year doctoral student from France studying in the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale University. Petitjean is a part of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She plans to attend the 19th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in North Bethesda, Md., July 14-16, 2015 to present her research on “Lignin Valorization: The Catalytic Reduction of Lignin Model Compounds.”







Zach Swingen, from Black Earth, Wisconsin, is an undergraduate student studying organic chemistry at Augsburg College. He will be presenting his research on green synthesis of sustainable tri-block copolymers at the 19th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in North Bethesda, Md., July 14-16, 2015.




Zarif Farhana.jpg

Zarif Farhana Mohd Aris is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts - Lowell. She is studying plastics engineering and plans to attend the 249th ACS National Meeting, March 22-26, 2015, in Denver to present her research focused on developing a non-toxic, environmental-friendly, bio-based surfactant, compounds commonly used as detergents, derived from fruit waste and algae.



The Ciba Travel Award in Green Chemistry was established in 2009 and is awarded annually. The award covers up to $2,000 of each awardee’s travel and conference expenses.




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


Last week I attended and spoke at a Materials Research Society meeting. It was very interesting despite having only a short time to spend there, but I was reminded once again of how many ways in which the lines between chemistry, chemical engineering, physics, biology and other sciences are blurred in certain areas of scientific pursuit. I have often said that for me, the really interesting science occurs at the interfaces of many different scientific and engineering disciplines, and that is especially true in sustainable and green chemistry and engineering. There are a great many areas where a better understanding and use of new materials in alternative energy, transportation, carbon capture, etc. will significantly impact efforts to make society more sustainable.


It’s the end of the year and one of the things I’m often asked about is to opine on what I think is important in green chemistry and engineering. So, I’d like to take just a few moments and lay that out at a very high level. I generally chop things up into four areas:  Chemicals, chemistries, design and processes.




When it comes to chemicals, I think chemists need to think more about where things come from, and they need to start making different choices about the chemicals they use. This falls into two general categories, but in both cases, the emphasis needs to be on sustainably sourcing chemicals. The two areas are inorganics and organics. From an inorganic perspective, it’s mainly about metals and key elements like platinum group metals (elements that are crucial to electronics as we currently manufacture them), rare earths, and basically anything that isn’t earth abundant. For organics, it’s mainly about getting chemicals from something other than petroleum or other fossil sources of carbon (natural gas, coal/syngas, etc.). There is too much to write in a short post, but I think we need to move from fossil-based feedstocks and non-renewable elements to renewable feedstocks and closed-loop systems, with a lot more attention paid to what is known as waste valorization or getting chemicals from what we now think of as waste.




In order for us to transition to sustainable and green chemicals, we will need to think about different ways in which we do chemistry.  What I have in mind here for organic chemistry is different reaction chemistries, separation processes, and chemical manufacturing processes optimized for non-fossil based sources, greater reliance on synthetic biology and/or other bio-based production platforms to perform industrial-scale synthesis.Think about it for a moment. All of the organic chemistry we are taught is predominantly about using something we get from petroleum and activating a limited number of framework molecules, or functionalizing them, or otherwise changing the oxidation states of the carbon atoms. By comparison, framework molecules from biological sources are generally highly functionalized and in different oxidation states, so we need to think about how we change the functionality and build new molecules in a way that doesn’t require a lot of mass and energy. If we think about inorganics, we typically use heat and pressure to make what we want, and that translates into some very high energy processes. In addition, a lot of materials we use now and which are the darlings of the automotive industry, electronics, or the alternative energy industry are just not terribly abundant.




Which brings me to thinking about chemical and product design and how that needs to change. Here, it’s my opinion that we need to think more about function-based chemical/product design approaches; e.g., rather than designing a chemical that kills a bacteria, we design a surface that doesn’t allow microbial adhesion so it does not have a place to grow, or we don’t allow bacteria to create a film that promotes their collective growth and survival. Or, we think about adhesion in some applications like we see with a gecko; i.e., use Van der Waals forces to hold things together vs. forming a chemical bond. There are a variety of examples like this, so I won’t belabor the point. If you think about what it is that you want in terms of the specific outcome and work back from that, it can change the way in which you approach the problem or the solution we deliver.




Finally, we need to think about changing the way we make things. From manufacturing processes to things we do as we pass through our days need to use less mass and energy; i.e., we need to do more with less, with less waste and with less toxic chemicals. The idea that society will always be able to obtain what it needs to support an ever-increasing population with new and interesting products and basic needs like adequate food, water and shelter without any problems is just not sustainable. 


This is a whirlwind summary that begs for additional clarification and hopefully I can speak a bit more about these things in the next year. It’s hard to believe that another year has drawn to a close, but there is no lack of challenges and those challenges are creating an abundance of opportunities. I look forward to next year and continuing to move green chemistry and engineering forward with you. Thanks for all you’ve done this year to make the world a better place.  

As always, let me know what you think.






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Contributed by Umayr Sufi, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology undergraduate at the University of California, Davis, for the ACS GCI "What's Your Green Chemistry?" Campaign


Taking an Organic Chemistry course at my community college, my interest grew into the details of improving chemistry synthesis. I teamed up with my professor and looked at Diels-Alder synthesis, using a common industrial reaction involving furan and maleic acid. Our aim was to use the principles of green chemistry to develop more safe and effective methods for synthesis of this reaction.


We found one process (out of many) that scored high on being safe for us to carry out combined with giving us efficient results; the use of water as a solvent. We found through experimentation that water allowed the Diels-Alder synthesis to take place, with time efficiency and respectable yields. Achieving the goals of green chemistry is logical for research environments and industrial settings. As a scientist, you want your reactants to be sustainable, your solvent to be safe, and your entire reaction to be conducted in a matter so you get maximum yield in the shortest amount of time possible. We found that using a green solvent like water, along with sustainable reactants (furan/maleic acid) was one of the ways we could improve upon chemical synthesis – giving us timely and readable results while being safe for us to use in the laboratory environment.


This idea of using water is not completely new. In the journal Angewandte Chemie scientists from the Scripps Research Institute in 2005 conducted several studies on the use of water as a solvent in chemical synthesis. In a typical Diels-Alder reaction they found that using water as solvent had the reaction complete in the quickest time, and produced a high yield when compared to other solvents. Take a look at the table! You can see that water, used in the same concentration as the other chemicals, allowed the reaction to take place in the least amount of time and produced a high yield of product (81 percent). This shows us that water is an efficient solvent for Diels-Alder synthesis. It can get the job done in the most efficient manner, and be a safe chemical for us to use in synthesis.


Water isn’t exactly a new substance, but it’s something the industry and even academics can overlook when doing chemistry. It’s in everyone’s interest to conduct synthesis in the most effective way possible, and for my green chemistry research I found water does exactly that.


Undergraduate research poster PDF




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Contributed by David Mody, TEAM Director and Oxana Shibaeva, TEAM Program Associate


Every year, since 1995, senior undergraduate students from engineering, geology, environmental studies, biology, commerce and law, partner with industry to work on the most current real-world challenges in a unique project-based educational program - TEAM (Technology, Engineering, and Management). The program is offered as an eight-month course by Queen’s University at Kingston (Canada).



The program starts in the month of September with industry clients, across Canada and the United States, introducing a challenge or an idea they would like to investigate. These projects require a diverse analysis of technical, commercial, legal and policy aspects. TEAM assembles an interdisciplinary group of motivated students to work closely with the client and an assigned expert advisor. Over the course of the year, students dive into the subject matter, research, develop and propose viable solutions, as well as learn how to plan and manage these challenging projects as a team. The teams travel to the client’s facility in mid-April to present their findings to everyone involved and interested in the project.


The program is strongly focused on giving students the maximum exposure to real-world projects, as well as opportunities to work in a multidisciplinary team and to build up a diverse set of skills. After a long career in the industry, TEAM founder Barrier Jackson, recognized the gaps in skills present among new graduates. As an Adjunct Professor at Queen’s University, Professor Jackson made an enormous contribution to the educational design.


We believe that although fundamentals are essential, they are by no means sufficient. Today’s employers are looking for people who can function well in multidisciplinary teams, are people who can take ownership for their learning, and people who can communicate effectively.”


– Barrie Jackson (1932-2013).@


TEAM runs a very broad range of projects, up to 30 a year, drawn from the technology, biotech, energy, chemicals, transportation, finance, and agricultural industries, often encompassing a combination of:


• Environmental, Sustainability, and Safety Considerations (Sustainable Design, Chemical Reduction Strategies, Inherent Safety, etc.)

• Feasibility & Design (New Process/Product Proposals, Innovative Production Methods, etc.)

• Process Improvement (Heat Integration, Optimization, Modelling & Analysis, etc.)

• Business Strategy/Marketing (Economic Modelling & Analysis, Market & Industry Analysis, Business Case Development, etc.)

• Environmental and Legal Regulatory, Intellectual property, and Business Risk Analysis.



A continually present and ever-growing theme of the projects is the field of sustainability and greener engineering, such as waste-to-energy, renewable energy storage, alternative fuels, energy loss reduction, waste reduction and process optimization. As a result, following graduation, TEAM students enter the professional world acutely aware of the growing social and environmental challenges and their corresponding business implications, while having developed the required skills and knowledge to tackle these challenges in a collaborative way.


"TEAM gave me the opportunity to work in a multidisciplinary real life engineering project. The experience was invaluable; throughout the term we chunked our problems down to bite size pieces and problem solved each of them, one at a time. What really stuck out for me, was how TEAM pushed me to work with others to create innovative solutions. If the solutions weren't real - it wouldn't cut it. That's why our client was so thankful for our work, because what materialized gave them insight into the resources required for their project. This gave us an experience of a lifetime, and our clients the necessary information to move forward with development."


- B.Eng. graduate (2010)


Partnering with the TEAM program allows clients to “dip their toes” into the projects that may have a substantial impact if successful, but are high-risk and may be resource intensive. Many clients return year after year, extracting benefits such as first-hand exposure to the new talent and potential employees, leading edge software, research, prototyping facilities and library resources, and a low-cost, high-quality product providing excellent value. Clients reported an average of $46,000 in value generated per project, totaling $928,000 of value across the program in 2013. Past and current industry partners are a host of fascinating companies, which include:


• Fortune 500 organizations: Shell Canada, 3M, Suncor, DuPont, BMO, etc.

• Exciting new start-ups: Pure Ingenuity and PnuVax.

• Local and across Canada and United States: City of Kingston, Magna International, Grange Winery, OPG, BASF, Agrium, Brookfield, CanGEA, etc.


Clients have also cited the importance of the fresh perspective and gained knowledge:


We have engaged the TEAM program on several research projects over the past few years with great results. These projects have been used to launch further in-house research into key environmental challenges. Working with the TEAM project members has been a rewarding experience for my staff and me


- Manager, Environmental Performance, Shell Canada Limited.


Among a variety of topics, the TEAM group selected Energy Storage for the Pickering Wind Turbine as their topic this year. Within the first month the students had already done an impressive amount of work and had the various technologies evaluated. They did a lot of the legwork for us and were very receptive to customer needs and feedback. We both learned the legal, environmental and financial constraints on energy production from this increasingly popular renewable energy resource. Thanks to Queens TEAM-OPG, we have quantified what it will take to make this source of energy production more stable and reliable. Not only have our practical siting details been addressed but we now have a strategy we can follow when the economic environment is right. In summary, this has been a very efficient and informative project. It was a pleasure to work with such a motivated and bright group of students. Thank you TEAM!


- Sr. Technical Advisor, Ontario Power Generation


Since 2005, the TEAM program has been directed by David Mody, adjunct lecturer with 17 years of engineering and design process experience. His goal is to attract diverse, high quality projects for students, and mentor teams to help develop strong technical, collaborative and project management skills in the students.


We have been fortunate to build outstanding relationships with a diverse set of companies who support the vision of providing an experience that is unique among any university in North America. For me personally, the opportunity to work with the bright and enthusiastic students who will soon be the future drivers of the Canadian economy is a great honour.”

– David Mody


For more information on TEAM:



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Contributed by Stephen A. Miller, Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of Florida; Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Bioplastics


The enormous utility of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and other polyolefins cannot be disputed, but their real cost is debatable.


My teenage daughter makes cookies in our kitchen. The ingredients—flour, sugar, chocolate chips, etc.—are always available through no effort of her own. The oven reliably warms up via a process she probably does not understand and certainly does not pay for. When she is finished, she has two dozen cookies and I have a kitchen and dishes to clean. She once declared that her cookies are “free.” While delicious, these cookies are not free. Her evaluation ignored the origin and value of the feedstocks, ignored the actual cost of production, and ignored the real effort and cost associated with returning the kitchen and dishes to a state usable by the next cook. To my daughter, her minimal efforts are well worth the chocolaty benefits. The outcome is great for her, but arrives with naïvete and inconsideration.


When I hear recitations about the low cost of polyolefins, I simply think of my daughter’s  cookies—not actually eating them, just my expense of providing the ingredients and my servile cleaning efforts. Polyolefins, each approximately one U.S. dollar per pound, seem inexpensive—so long as one ignores the true value of their feedstocks, their full production costs, and their environmental remediation. Including these costs—such as sifting through tons of municipal trash, manually collecting polyethylene bags five grams at a time, or filtering the world’s oceans—massively inflates the real cost, probably by an order of magnitude or more. Hence, the time-integrated or full lifecycle cost of truly sustainable polymers should be significantly less than that of polyolefins—especially when they undergo self-remediation in natural environments to benign products in a decade or so.Graphic-1.jpg


Ever growing worldwide efforts have targeted polyolefin replacements that are “sustainable,”1 a term that should be reserved for polymers that are both renewable and degradable2. Examples of polymers that are renewable, but not readily degradable include bio-polyethylene (bio-PE, from Brazilian sugarcane)3, polyethylene furanoate (“PEF is not biodegradable”),4 bio-nylon 11,5 and 30% renewable PlantBottle® polyethylene terephthalate.6  Even natural rubber and polylactic acid (PLA)7 can be slow to degrade in natural environments. Note the testimony of Graphic 1, which pictures a surprisingly pristine PLA cup that has inhabited a Florida swamp for two years. Examples of polymers that are degradable, but not generally renewable include polyglycolic acid (PGA),8  polycaprolactone (PCL),9 polybutylene succinate (PBS),10 polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH),11 and most polyanhydrides.12 These polymers degrade with some facility in the environment, but are constructed primarily from fossil fuels.



Graphic 2 depicts a Venn diagram including the aforementioned classes of polymers, renewable and degradable. Also depicted is a circle encompassing classical, fossil fuel-based, inexpensive commodity polymers, such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and polystyrene (PS). At the center of the Venn diagram is the ultimate goal of the green polymer renaissance: a polymer that is built with renewable feedstocks, degrades in the environment into safe byproducts, and is cost competitive with extant polymers that have enjoyed decades of industrial optimization. This ideal polymer probably does not exist yet, but many believe that continued research and innovation, along with economies of scale, will eventually yield this panacea plastic. Hopefully this occurs soon. In the interim, I will concede that polyolefins are cheaper than sustainable alternatives—so long as you clean my kitchen.

U.S. Bioplastics



1Miller, S. A. “Degradable Biopolymers”, Chemistry & Industry Magazine 2013, 7, 20-23. rs


2Miller, S. A. “Sustainable Polymers: Opportunities for the Next Decade” (Viewpoint), ACS Macro Lett. 2013, 2, 550–554.




4(a)  (b) Muncke, J. “PEF: New food contact polymer on the horizon” Food Packaging Forum, November 9, 2013. on






7(a) Y. Rudeekit, J. Numnoi, M. Tajan, P. Chaiwutthinan and T. Leejarkpai, J. Met. Mater. Miner., 2008, 18, 83–87.  (b) T. Kijchavengkul and R. Aurus, Polym. Int. 2008, 57, 793–804.  (c) E. Royte, Corn Plastic to the Rescue. Smithsonian Magazine, August 2006, pp. 84–88.








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