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Contributed by Phil Dahlin, Sustainability at Janssen

 

The connection between green chemistry and health is one that I am both personally and professionally engaged in. Healthy people depend on a healthy planet. And so I see environmental stewardship as a vital component of our pharmaceutical business. At Janssen, the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson, this includes investing in innovative approaches to improve our environmental footprint.

 

Assessing Product Lifecycle

 

Chemical processes have a significant impact on a pharmaceutical product's environmental footprint, so integrating more green chemistry into standard practice has been a business imperative for Janssen over the last decade. Johnson & Johnson utilizes its Earthwards® approach as way of addressing the impacts of our products, throughout their lifecycles. Life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology – looking at both products and their components from cradle through use and end-of-life – has come a long way since the first widely-recognized study performed by Coca-Cola in 1969. Janssen found that performing LCAs has helped us to identify opportunities to better incorporate sustainability into our product development processes and reduce our environmental impact. However, what we’ve learned is that a full-blown LCA is a very intensive exercise, the data acquisition is not always straight-forward, and performing a LCA on every product we manufactured was simply not feasible. We also discovered that there were no existing methodologies at that time to adequately assess the sheer volume of variables associated with pharmaceutical products.

 

Collaboration

 

We decided to partner with the Department of Sustainable Organic Chemistry and Technology at Ghent University, Belgium (UGent) to develop state-of-the-art methodologies in sustainability assessments that would simplify the LCAs we had to perform and identify priority variables. Janssen has a long-time, productive partnership with UGent, so the collaboration was a natural fit to find more efficient ways of understanding where the largest impacts of our processes were.

 

After conducting a full LCA on 40 different chemical manufacturing steps and gathering data on 15 potential predictor variables, we were able to develop a highly-predictive model of the environmental footprint of a product using just three variables. This method showed us where we had the largest opportunities to streamline our development and manufacturing processes, and where we might invest in footprint reduction initiatives. It also earned some of our products Earthwards® recognition1 , an honor recognized by Johnson & Johnson leadership for our most broadly improved products.

 

What Next?

 

Inspired by the success of this collaboration, Janssen is proud to support the ACS GCI roundtable on green chemistry. We believe that by working together to address the ethical, social and environmental aspects of our industry, we can all achieve the best outcomes for our patients and society. We look forward to further collaborations in the future on the path to creating more sustainable medicines in 2015 and beyond.

 

Reference

1e.g. galantamine HBr, active pharmaceutical ingredient of REMINYL®/RAZADYNE® (3 API manufacturing process generations)

 

 

 

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As the global population increases (trending towards 9 billion people by 2050), it is anticipated that food production will need to increase by 70 percent to meet global demand. Sustainable agricultural practices will increasingly be needed as the industry seeks to minimize its human and ecological health impacts while scaling and providing for this demand. One of the biggest areas that chemistry influences agriculture is pesticides. Greener pesticide technologies are catching on more and more, and in particular, biopesticides (a market that is projected to grow to $4.5 billion in 2023).

 

Early pesticides were typically highly toxic materials (e.g., Arsenic) or synthetic organic compounds (e.g., DDT). Some of these conventional technologies faced government phase-outs (due to their toxicity, persistence, or insolubility) or pest resistance. Public concern over pesticides had a strong influence in shifting away from some of the more toxic pesticides over the last several decades. In general, since then consumers have been pushing chemical markets towards natural products (though it is important to remember that not all natural products are safe).

 

Biopesticides are a certain type of natural product that are used to control pests, plant diseases, and weeds. The two major categories of biopesticides: biochemical and microbial. Biochemical pesticides control pests with naturally occurring substances such as insect pheromones, plant extracts, and plant or insect growth inhibitors. Microbial pesticides use microorganisms as the active ingredient (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoans). (Transgenic crops (also known as plant incorporated protectants) are also technically considered to be biopesticides, where scientists modify a plant’s genetic material with specific pesticidal proteins, but will not be addressed in this post). The primary advantages of these biochemical and microbial bioproducts are that they are usually less toxic than conventional pesticides, affect only the target pest, can be used in very small quantities, and can decompose quickly. On the flip side, they typically have shorter shelf lives, limited persistence, and can be slower acting.

 

The U.S. EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award (PGCCA) has been granted 13 times to innovators who have developed greener pesticides. Seven of these technologies are considered biopesticide-related or are processes that support the bioproducts’ pipeline. For example, in 1997 two professors from Michigan State University won the academic award for developing genetically engineered microbes and a process for synthesizing catechol (a building block for many pesticides that is usually derived from petroleum-based benzene). Another notable award is the 2001 Small Business Award to EDEN Bioscience Corporation (since then the technology has been acquired by Plant Health Care, Inc.). The team developed and commercialized harpins, a new class of proteins produced by plant pathogenic bacteria. Without altering the plant’s DNA, harpins can activate the natural defense mechanisms of the plant, fight disease and pests, and trigger the plant growth systems. This technology is not only considered non-toxic, but is produced via an essentially waste-free water-based fermentation process.

 

Another challenge that biopesticides can face is that they can unknowingly affect a broader spectrum of non-target species. One example is spinosad, Dow Agroscience’s 1999 Designing Greener Chemicals PGCCA Award. The product is developed through a particular soil microorganism. It was highly effective on specific species, and had a favorable environmental profile with low tendency to leach, persist, bioaccumulate, or volatize. (In 2008, Dow Agroscience won again for a spinosad development—spinetoram, a more effective equivalent biopesticide for tree fruits and nuts). While spinosad was significantly safer for humans, in the early 2000’s it was discovered that it was intrinsically toxic to pollinators.

 

It is clear that biopesticides are a key tool for more environmentally benign agricultural practices, but not without some issues to always be aware of. Like all greener chemistry innovations, there is a constant thrust for continuous improvement and deeper understanding of what hazard means in this field. In addition to products to be applied directly to plants, there are biopesticide treatments being developed for seeds and soil amendments. Through multidisciplinary collaborations (between chemists, entomologists, toxicologists, etc.) these products can continue to grow in safer, holistically understood ways and support more sustainable agriculture.

 

 

 

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Towards a sustainable model of agriculture in Brazil: Divulging the role of the National Institute of Science and Technology for the Biorational Control of Pest – Insect (INCT-CBIP)CBIP-logo.png


Contributed by Vânia G. Zuin, Maria Fátima G. F. da Silva, João Batista Fernandes, Moacir Rossi Forim, Universidade Federal de São Carlos (SP-Brazil), Department of Chemistry

 

The main objective of this manuscript is to provide a modern overview of the current green approaches for insect pest control, detaching some specific cases in Brazil. As is well known, these alternatives to classical agrochemicals have been attracting the interest of a vast group of people and institutions all over the world: academic, industrial, governmental, and nongovernmental sectors, as well as the society in general. The Natural Products Research Group of Universidade Federal de São Carlos, SP-Brazil (UFSCar) was formed more than 30 years ago. The research interest of the group covered many aspects of general phytochemistry. The State of São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) has been contributing systematically and substantially to these interdisciplinary investigations, allowing the development of new scientific strategies for the study of natural products, for instance, supporting two thematic projects: “Study of the potential of some plant species and natural and synthetic products for the control of leaf-cutter ants”, coordinated by Prof. Fernandes; and, "Phytochemistry and chemical ecology: Search for starter compounds for new insecticidal, fungicidal and bactericidal drugs for control of plant pests”, coordinated by Prof. Silva. In developing these studies the group had strong interactions with a number of other Brazilian research groups. The National Institutes of Science and Technology Program (INCT), launched in 2008 by the Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation (CNPq) permitted the expansion of the main group. Thus, Profs. Silva, Fernandes, Forim and Zuin aggregate in their networks the best research groups and companies of chemical ecological and education areas from several states in Brazil, including international partners based on Europe and North America more recently, in order to make Brazil a referential country when the control of insects with low impact to the environment is aimed, through the National Institute of Science and Technology for the Biorational Control of Pest-Insect (INCT-CBIP).

 

Mission

 

The efficient control of insects and the search for biologically active compounds that are closely related to human survival are important issues to be studied. Insects are the greatest competitors of mankind with regard to food, besides being vectors of a number of diseases that affect humans, herds and plants. The objective of the INCT-CBIP was to carry out studies to control biorationally pest-insect and their associated microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria and yeasts.

 

CBIP-graph.pngThe assays of pesticide activity and inhibition of fungi and bacteria have been performed with plant extracts and natural products from plants or microorganisms. The toxicity of a number of extracts and natural compounds to insects, fungi and bacteria were determined. The extracts and natural compounds showed moderate activity in comparison with commercial insecticides. Thus these compounds were assayed against other targets. Neem oil from Azadirachta indica showed significant activity as an insecticide. However, if it is assumed that it is possible to modify the chemical structure and/or complexation with metals the compounds to improve activity and selectivity, our results helped in directing the rational design of coumarins, alkaloids and flavonoid derivatives and the last as potent and effective insecticide, fungicide and bactericide.

 

Enzymes that degrade the polysaccharides of the vegetal (pectinases and amylases) in reducing sugars have been detected in symbiotic fungus and also have been found in the fecal liquid of the Atta sexdens rubropilosa or leaf-cutting ant. These sugars constitute the main source of energy for the ants' nest. Therefore, the ants use symbiotic fungi to promote this process of degradation, once they are not capable to degrade the pectin directly.

 

CBIP-Mosquito.pngThe enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is present in the central nervous system of insects, and hydrolyses the acetylcholine neurotransmitter in acetate and choline, thus finishing the synaptic transmission, playing a fundamental role in the transmission of the cholinergic nervous impulse. Two genes, Ace1 and Ace2, have been characterised in different classes of insects and two mutations in Ace1 have been associated with resistance in mosquitos. Enzymatic bioreactors were prepared using the enzymes acetylcholinesterase, butirilcholinesterase, and pectinase, and were used for studies of mechanism of action of substances, which presented inhibition activity against insects.

 

In addition to promoting the development of national competence in vanguard scientific and technological areas and creating rich environments for researchers, the INCT-CBIP is directly responsible for training students and divulging the results of its investigations at several levels.

 

CBIP-professors.jpg

 

The integration of both techno-scientific and educational aspects related to the role of sustainable agriculture in Brazil allowed Prof. Zuin to be recognised as a researcher who has been contributing significantly in analysing bioactive high-value organic substances extracted from agro-industrial residues and also studying curricula for courses in environmental and green chemistry, the latter also through the IUPAC project “Green Chemistry in Higher Education: Toward a Green Chemistry Curriculum for Latin American and African Universities”. In 2014, Prof. Zuin was awarded the IUPAC CHEMRAWN VII Prize for Atmospheric and Green Chemistry, at the 5th International IUPAC Conference on Green Chemistry, held in Durban, South Africa at the end of August. As can be seen, The INCT-CBIP has a detached role in the Brazilian scenario, developing a number of green approaches for the biorational control of insects of interest in Brazil, bringing together international researchers and companies, and also contributing to the improvement of science teaching and the scientific dissemination to the population taking into account the sustainable agriculture models in Brazil.

 

 

References:

SEVERINO, V. G. P.; FREITAS, S. D. L.; BRAGA, P. A. C.; FORIM, M.R.; SILVA, M. F. G. F.; FERNANDES, J. B.; VIEIRA, P. C.; VENANCIO, T. New limonoids from Hortia oreadica and unexpected coumarin from H. superba using chromatography over cleaning Sephadex with sodium hypochlorite. Molecules, v. 19, n. 8, p. 12031-12047, 2014.

 

PERLATTI, B.; FORIM, M. R.; ZUIN, V. G.  Green chemistry, sustainable agriculture and processing systems. Chemical and Biological Technologies for Agriculture, v. 1, p. 5-14, 2014.

 

Pictures:

1) Diagram of complexes of bioactive natural products with inorganic ions,

2) A. aegypti,

3) Profs. Zuin and Silva.

 

 

 

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Contributed by Ranae Jorgenson, Analytical Chemist, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (with contributions by Liz Morrison, Freelance Writer)

 

At the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), we are all about discovering new uses for agricultural resources in order to fuel economic growth in Minnesota. We work in four main areas—biobased products, coproducts, food and renewable energy. Several of our current projects focus on using chemistry to improve the nutrition of animal feed.

 

Specifically, two projects I want to highlight are:

  • Producing nutritious animal feed from corn stover (corn stalks, leaves, and cobs) and,
  • Enhancing soybean meal as a fish meal replacement.

 

Producing nutritious animal feed from corn stover

 

AURI is testing a way to make corn stover and other biomass more nutritious for livestock. Why is this needed? For example, in 2012, we saw many cattle producers losing their herds due to insufficient fodder and yet there was lots of baled corn stover available, if it could be made more nutritious.

 

Lignocellulosic biomass, like corn stover, contains plenty of nourishing carbohydrates, but they are locked up with lignans, making them undigestable. Although the technology isn’t new, researchers at AURI’s coproducts lab in Waseca, Minnesota, are using an alkaline solution to break down the bonds and release the nutrients so they are easier to digest.

 

The process “takes low-quality roughages and improves the available energy for dairy cows, beef cattle, and sheep,” says Al Doering, AURI coproducts scientist, who is leading the trials. The research could add value to crop residues like corn stover and perennial grasses, while cutting livestock feed costs and expanding biomass uses.

 

Calcium hydroxide, or slaked lime, is mixed with water and applied to chopped biomass. The treated material, which is about 50 percent moisture, is then packed into a bunker or bag and ensiled for 30 days. The cured feedstuff can be substituted for a portion of corn and hay in ruminant livestock rations.

 

“This technology has excellent potential to create new sources of high quality animal feed from underused resources,” Doering says.

 

AURI’s preliminary results suggest that calcium hydroxide treatment boosts the energy content of some crop residues — including corn stover and barley straw — by more than half, Doering says. That would make them nutritionally comparable to medium/low-quality alfalfa hay. “We’ll need to see a big jump in nutritional energy availability to offset the processing costs.” AURI will also test the feasibility of pelleting treated biomass to make it easier to ship—but that’s a long shot, Doering says. “I see this primarily as an on-farm application—treating forages like silage.”

 

Soybean meal as a fish meal replacement

 

Soybean meal, while an excellent animal feed, cannot be fed to a whole range of animals as soluble sugars in soybean meal are very disruptive to the digestive tract of baby pigs and carnivorous fish, in particular. And fish meal, which is often used, is increasingly expensive and in limited supply due to the decline in ocean fisheries.

 

That’s where Protein Resources, LLC, saw an opportunity to innovate and provide a feed ingredient that the market has been waiting for. “We felt that the market was looking for a soy-based, high-protein feed supplement that could be used in a variety of applications such as baby pig diets, poultry, aquaculture and possibly several other formulations,” says John Pollock, president of Protein Resources, LLC.

 

Working with AURI scientists, Protein Resources developed a cost-competitive, proprietary process to remove the fiber and sugars from soybean meal, leaving a digestible and high-protein feed. The extracted carbohydrates are used in dairy and beef cattle rations. The branded feed, sold as NutriVance Soybean Meal, will be marketed domestically and internationally to hog, poultry and aquaculture producers.

 

 

 

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Catalysis, the process of reducing a reaction’s energy requirement through use of a catalyzing agent, is a standard design principle of green chemistry. Yet many of the catalysts that chemists use are made out of rare metals like platinum. Figuring out how to do catalysis without using unsustainable catalysts is a priority to green chemists and companies seeking to find better, more efficient, cheaper, and ecological pathways to produce their products. One inspiration for solving such a problem has been nature.

 

Enzymes, a type of protein, are nature’s catalysts, working within cells to speed up reactions of all kinds. For example, enzymes in our digestive tract help break down food so that we can more rapidly benefit from it. But how can enzymes help chemists? Well, what if enzymes could be manipulated to catalyze the industrial reactions industry performs, such as creating a drug molecule or biofuel?

 

Enter Dr. Frances Arnold, professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry at Caltech and director of the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center. Arnold has developed a method of protein engineering called directed evolution. The basic process involves encouraging random mutations in the gene sequence for a protein of interest, such as an enzyme catalyst. The genes are introduced in bacteria or yeast, which produce the mutant enzymes.  As the bacteria express the mutated genes, the resulting proteins are screened for favorable behaviors. Genes responsible for favorable traits are then extracted and reinserted into the next evolutionary round.

 

directed-evolution.jpg

Credit: Joe Lertola, Bryan Christie Design

 

The goal of the process is to produce an enzyme that works in a way not found in nature. “I’m most excited about creating enzymes to catalyze reactions that nature never cared about or discovered,” says Professor Arnold. “I want to evolve chemical novelty, in the form of whole new enzymes.”

 

Over the past two years, Arnold has published 10 papers on this subject, finding enzymatic approaches to reactions that previously only chemists had been able to produce. But finding novelty through evolution is not always easy.

 

It’s clear that nature has the capacity to produce new catalytic activities, for example degrading synthetic pesticides sprayed on crops, but it’s far from clear how nature creates these new catalytic pathways. Cracking this code is a challenge that could open up opportunities to replace many of the reactions chemists do with more favorable, biological reactions. Breaking down the walls between traditional catalysis and biocatalysis will maximize the creative potential of both fields.

 

In Arnold’s research group at Caltech, students of molecular biology, biochemistry, bioengineering and chemistry work together. “I know chemists who feel that biology is the big frontier for them,” says Arnold. “They can apply their more traditional chemical knowledge to identifying new opportunities for biological synthesis.”

 

Young chemists know that the field is changing and more jobs are opening in these cross-disciplinary areas. According to a MarketsandMarkets Report released in February, the market for biocatalysts is projected to grow at 5.5% per year and reach 11.94 kilo tons by 2019. Driven by technological advances, biocatalysis is particularly strong in Europe and the United States, where biocatalysts are used in laundry detergent, the food and beverage industry, the specialty chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries, and increasingly in the production of biofuels. Many start-ups are employing these methods, especially in the production of biofuels and specialty chemicals. Arnold herself has founded two companies, Gevo, Inc., which uses her methodology to create the biofuel isobutanol, and Provivi, a start-up that is developing new products for crop protection.

 

Large companies are also embracing the developing capabilities of biochemistry. In 2010 Merck, in partnership with Codexis, developed an enzymatic process for producing the active ingredient in Januvia™, a drug used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. The new process replaced a rare metal rhodium catalyst and won the team a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the EPA that same year.

 

Professor Arnold will be keynoting at the 19th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference this July 14-16 in North Bethesda, Maryland where she will talk about chemical novelty and the opportunities for green chemists and engineers in this field.

 

“Doing great science is hard, but doing great science that has an impact is even harder,” says Arnold. “So if you like challenges, try to do that.”

 

 

Arnold has received numerous honors, including induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2014), the ENI Prize in Renewable Energy (2013), the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011) and the Draper Prize of the National Academy of Engineering (2011). She has been elected to membership in all three US National Academies, of Science, Medicine, and Engineering. Among other activities, Prof. Arnold chairs the Advisory Panel of the Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering and serves as a judge for the Queen Elizabeth Prize in Engineering.  Arnold holds more than 40 US patents and has served on the science advisory boards of numerous companies. She co-founded Gevo, Inc. in 2005 to make fuels and chemicals from renewable resources and Provivi in 2013 to develop new products for crop protection.

 

 

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Contributed by Ann Lee-Jeffs, Business Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute®

 

Jack Bobo1.jpgJack Bobo holds a special place in the world of food, science, and agriculture. He is a leading edge thinker and speaker working at the intersection of science, law and policy. Jack is responsible for global outreach to foreign audiences and senior foreign officials on global agricultural trends, climate change, food security, and biotechnology. Jack serves as the State Department's ex officio representative to USDA's Federal Advisory Committee on 21st Century Agriculture. As Senior Advisor, Jack travels frequently, speaking on behalf of the Department at international conferences and meetings to present U.S. agricultural trade and development policies to foreign audiences, including journalists, policy makers, students, and scientists. I met Jack over coffee in late February at his office at the U.S. State Department. We had an engaging discussion about the intersection of green or sustainable chemistry, food and agriculture.

 

Ann Lee-Jeffs: Why do you think consumers should care more about food safety and the source of their food?

 

Jack Bobo: Most people spend little time thinking about where their food comes from, how it is produced and how it makes it to their plate. Until something goes wrong, that is. As soon as there is a problem — E. coli in spinach or salmonella in peanut butter — people understandably begin to ask questions about food safety inspections, practices of the agriculture industry, and larger questions about how farming has changed in the past 50 years.

 

The same occurs with respect to hunger. Until 2008, when people in the Middle East and Haiti started rioting because of high food prices, the issue of access and availability of safe and nutritious food had practically disappeared from public discourse. Most of us underestimate the importance of a stable and safe food supply to our society and our standard of living.

 

Ann Lee-Jeffs: With the global population expected to reach nine billion in less than 40 years, what do you think is the role of green/sustainable chemistry in the agriculture space and safe food supply?

 

Jack Bobo: With the global population expected to reach nine billion in less than 40 years, the sustainable production of agriculture will be increasingly on the minds of governments, private industry, and even many consumers. Not only do we have to increase the amount of food available, we have to find ways to minimize its footprint on the planet. There is no activity that humankind engages in that has a bigger impact on the planet than agriculture. This is true in terms of impacts on land and water resources as well as in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Therefore one of the great challenges that confront all of us in the next 40 years is to figure out how to maximize the production of food while minimizing the negative consequences of agriculture — from polluted waterways to disappearing rainforests.

 

This seems like a daunting task, and yet, science and technology, and especially chemistry, have proven capable of increasing production year after year for decades. Prior to the 1900s, agricultural yields increased at a painfully slow pace. However, at the beginning of the last century a series of agricultural breakthroughs ushered in dramatic growth in food production. The first of these revolutions was the advent of synthetic fertilizer in 1915, followed by mechanization, hybrid seeds, pesticides and, most recently, genetically engineered (GE) crops. Corn is a great example; to produce a bushel of corn we use 50 percent less water, 40 percent less land, 60 percent less soil erosion, 40 percent less energy, and 35 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than we did just three decades ago.

 

Ann Lee-Jeffs: Why is green/sustainable engineering so important to ensure that agriculture saves the planet instead of destroying it?  What do you see happening that makes you think we are going in the right direction?

 

Jack Bobo: In order to feed the 9 billion people on the planet in 2050, global agriculture will need to produce 60 percent more food using less land, less water, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides. In other words, we will need to do everything better than we are doing it today and our rivers and lakes are already running dry. The rapid pace of technological development suggests that scientists may, indeed, be able to sustain the growth of the past. But this will only happen if scientists are able to apply the most advanced technologies to the problems at hand. This is a hardly a certainty at the moment given opposing views of the future as reflected in the slow food movement and liberalized trade in food products. Figuring out how to understand and balance these real and, in some ways, opposing trends, will determine the future health of our planet.

 

We need the best ideas from organic and ecological food systems combined with modern advances in molecular breeding and genetics if we are to address this pressing challenge and sustainably feed a growing planet. I will be the first to admit that science doesn’t always get it right. It’s also true, however, that you can’t get it right without science. The good news is that after 2050 population growth will slow dramatically and everything will get easier. So, if we are able to get to 2050 without cutting down our forests and draining our rivers and lakes, we will be good forever. The next 40 years are going to be the most important 40 years there have ever been in the history of agriculture.

 

We owe it to coming generations to use every tool available, from organic production to biotechnology, to increase the quantity and quality of food while minimizing the footprint of agriculture. This will require the attention and effort of all of us. Our lives and the lives of our children depend on it. And, if we’re successful, agriculture just might save the planet.

 

Ann Lee-Jeffs: What is your advice for the scientists and engineers who are working in the agriculture and food sectors regarding sustainable/green chemistry and engineering?

 

Jack Bobo: There has never been a more exciting time to work at the intersection of green chemistry/engineering and food and agriculture. Agriculture cuts across global challenges related to water, land, air and climate change. These challenges are driving demand for new technologies to promote public and environmental health. But there is also consumer demand for greener products that will accelerate the transition to a greener economy. Not only are new jobs being created every day, there are new companies being created and even entire new sectors of the economy that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

 

 

 

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

 

Last week I had the privilege of seeing the work of three National Science Foundations centers. There are a total of eight centers that have received Phase II funding since 2007, and I would like to list them here:

 

Centers for Chemical Innovation – Phase II Awards

 

Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis (Karen Goldberg, University of Washington) FY2007-2016

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

CCI Solar Fuels  (Harry Gray, Caltech) FY2008-2017

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

Center for Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit (V. Ara Apkarian, UC Irvine) FY2009-2018

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

Center for Chemical Evolution (Nicholas Hud, Georgia Institute of Technology) FY 2010-2014

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry (Douglas Keszler, Oregon State) FY 2011-2015

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

Center for Selective C-H Functionalization (Huw Davies, Emory University) FY 2012-2016

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

Center for Aerosol Implications for Climate and Environment (Kimberly Prather, UC San Diego) FY 2013-2017

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

Center for Sustainable Polymers (Marc Hillmyer, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) FY 2014-2018

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

A further three centers received Phase I funding in 2012 and these are the ones I saw:

 

FY 2012 Phase I Awards – possible Phase II in FY2015

 

Center for Capture and Conversion of CO2(Tayhas Palmore, Brown University)

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (Robert Hamers, University of Wisconsin Madison)

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

Center for the Sustainable Use of Renewable Feedstocks (Peter Ford, University of California Santa Barbara)

Award Abstract & Center Website

 

It is great to see all the work these various centers are doing and I hope you take the time to look into them a bit more closely. The work that these centers are doing will be transformative and synergistic, and I heartily endorse and commend the NSF for continuing with this program. Unquestionably there is some great science being done at these centers, and it is very exciting to see the advances they are making.

 

Acknowledging this, the interesting thing to me is that many of the professors, graduate students and students in these centers, for the most part, don’t self-identify as doing green chemistry, despite the fact that many things they are doing, particularly the strategic aim of the center, is clearly embodied or envisioned in principles of green chemistry and engineering. Also, it is my experience that many chemistry researchers don’t pay much attention to things that are easy for them to change like solvent or reagent selection, relying instead on traditional reagents and solvents that shouldn't be used. I also see no real evidence of taking mass or energy efficiency into account, and thinking from a life cycle perspective is not generally thought about. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, but it does reflect the reality of most chemistry research at major universities.

 

As I find myself in discussions with academic researchers at all levels, I consistently hear the same themes in defending their research practices. They include such things as “we’re only doing proof of concept work,” or “it’s important to just see if the hypothesis works before we pay attention to whether or not something is “green” or “sustainable”,” or “we know that using gold is not something we can do commercially, but we want to learn on a well-behaved system before we move to the real world application.”  And so on, and so on. When I ask how well a model system in early chemistry research translates to real world environments, the answer is usually that it doesn't.

 

This in many ways sums up the dilemma that is faced by traditional chemistry researchers when they attempt to do research that is use-inspired or biomimetic. Suddenly there is the problem that surface effects, solvent effects, ionic effects, morphology, and so on, are incredibly important variables and our reductionist way of doing chemistry (i.e., holding one variable constant at a time) is not quite up to the task of understanding complex systems. We generally don’t teach statistical design of experiment and the use of principal components analysis or other related statistical techniques that may help us understand complex systems, so we go back to what we know and remain in two or perhaps three dimensions. The idea that one needs to look at the complex interactions in a system, and that the selection of boundary conditions exerts a critical influence over the chemistry of the system is not something many chemists seem to have a good handle on.

 

I am hopeful, however, that as more of these centers are funded and as more research at the interface of chemistry with biology, materials, engineering and other disciplines and sub-disciplines takes place, that more chemistry researchers will pay greater attention to all the principles of green chemistry and engineering. It is in the consideration of many of these principles, in embracing greater complexity in experimental systems, and by incorporating greater systems-level thinking that we will solve many of the sustainability challenges facing society.There is no lack of fun and interesting research to be done, and I am looking forward to the next generation of chemists to hit their stride and begin to tackle these challenges one-by-one.

 

As always, please do let me know what you think.

 

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Contributed by Sílvio Vaz, Jr., Research scientist at Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation

 

Brazil is one of the largest agricultural producer around the world. The country has a diversified biomass production from agriculture based on grains and fruits for human and animal food and agri-industrial feedstocks such as soybean, sugarcane, cotton, etc. Furthermore, Brazil presents significant growth in the international trade of agribusiness, consolidating its position as one of the largest producers and exporters of food to more than 200 countries. These agricultural products and their residues can be considered as a raw material source for a renewable chemistry. However, it needs efforts in science and technology.

 

We can consider five objectives for R&D&I in the Brazilian agriculture:

 

  • Ensure competitiveness and sustainability of Brazilian agriculture;
  • Achieve a new competitive technological level in bioproducts, bioenergy and biofuels – here, closely related to green chemistry;
  • Intensify the development of technologies for the sustainable use of biomass and for the productive integration among the Brazilian regions;
  • Biodiversity prospect for the development of differentiated products with high added value for the exploration of new market segments – mainly, by the use of biotechnology;
  • Contribute to the advancement of the frontiers of knowledge and incorporate new technologies, including emerging technologies – e.g., to reduce dependence from agricultural and non-renewable inputs (e.g., fertilizers and pesticides), and to promote the agri-industrial waste usages.

 

Among the technologies with the greatest potential to influence the development of Brazilian agriculture for a horizon of 20 years, stands out those capable to change the genetic heritage (as nanobiotechnology), technologies for the reduction of environmental risk, the rational use of chemical inputs and consequent increase in economic efficiency, precision agriculture, and technologies for value addition and product diversification - green chemistry is a new trend to be considered in the last case.

 

On the other hand, the impacts of climate change will mean new behaviors in relation to the subject and there will be more pressure for conservation and the rational management of environmental resources in the production process, including stricter environmental standards. The frontiers of knowledge are constantly shifting, and new technologies are characterized by higher density in scientific knowledge. Thus, in the coming decades, there will be an increase on the complexity in the Brazilian science, technology and innovation, with the spread of highly relevant technologies for agriculture.

 

Biorefinery and green chemistry are two concepts that focus on sustainable utilization of biomass creating value chains similar to those derived from the oil derivatives, and they can be applied in agriculture and agro-industry promoting a biobased industry. There is a great synergy between them, mainly regarding the minimization of residues and environmental impacts for the creation of a green economy or bioeconomy. Furthermore, they comprise an integrated sustainable system (raw material, process, product and residues) according to technical parameters which take into account, among other aspects, energy and mass balances, life cycle analysis, and the application of practical principles to promote best practices for R&D&I and production processes. In Brazil, efforts have been made to evaluate the economic potential of biomass to support the development of sustainable chemistry. That means agriculture will provide a feedstock for chemistry.

 

 

 

“The Nexus Blog” is a sister publication of “The Nexus” newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, please email gci@acs.org, or if you have an ACS ID, login to your email preferences and select “The Nexus” to subscribe.

 

To read other posts, go to Green Chemistry: The Nexus Blog home.

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