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There has been a lot of activity around green chemistry this year, and we’d like to take the time to highlight some of the biggest stories – the top fifteen of 2015 – to demonstrate the accomplishments of the field. These stories, in no particular order, come from research labs and Capitol Hill alike.

 

capitol.JPG1. Nearly forty years after the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted there's been an update to national chemical regulation. The U.S. Senate passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. If you fancy some denser reading, here’s the Senate Congressional Record. The Environmental Defense Fund had glowing remarks about the passing vote.

 

2. In December, Colorado State University chemists announced the development of the first fully recyclable polymer. If innovation is looking where others aren’t, this Colorado State University research group hit the nail on the head.

 

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3. This year, green chemistry was frequently mentioned as a part of efforts by large retailers as they take greater action to address potentially hazardous chemicals in their products. Target and Walmart, for example, made the news via their partnership with Forum for the Future. Although Target and Walmart got the most press because of their size they are far from the only retailers making a shift towards stricter supply chain regulations. Proctor and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson and Unilever are just a few other brands that are working together for safer consumer products.

 

4. An article in Nature introduced a sub-field of green chemistry, the concept of the Slow Chemistry Movement. Referred to in this article as lazy man’s chemistry, low energy-input solid-state methods hold potential as an area for discovery.

 

5. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable. Dr. Juan Colberg, Co-Chair of the Roundtable stated, “As we look ahead with our collaboration, the Roundtable will continue to sponsor exciting research and development in green alternatives. By working together, we can help develop processes that are more sustainable, environmentally sound and cost effective.” The Roundtable has developed a common solvent selection guide, process mass intensity calculator, a reagent guide, provided over $1.5 million in grants, and more. The roundtable also held three events, like this free research symposium, over the course of 2015.

 

                                                                     

 

6. The Green Chemistry Education Roadmap project was initiated to help focus and coordinate individual and regional efforts to move the field of green chemistry forward. In September, the ACS GCI hosted a visioning workshop and is currently organizing a larger roadmapping workshop to take place in 2016.

 

endangeredelementsci.JPG7. In chemistry, what it means to “go mainstream” isn’t always clear-cut. These graphics created by Compound Interest are undoubtedly a good sign for green chemistry.

  1. Endangered elements
  2. 12 principles

 

8. The Green Chemistry Innovation Portal was launched by ACS GCI and GC3. This website is a multi-faceted tool to connect and expand the green chemistry community.

 

9. This well-circulated report, released in May, provided a foundation for the business case for safer chemistry. Although it doesn’t provide definitive answers to all of our questions about the market for green chemistry, it does create a starting place for future studies and might catch the eye of potential investors. Based on this report, evidence that green chemistry products show higher sales growth was certainly a hot topic in the news.

 

10. Twenty years ago, the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards were established to “promote the environmental and economic benefits of developing and using novel green chemistry.” According to the U.S. EPA over 1,500 nominations have been made so far, and a new category for innovations that mitigate climate change was added this year. The PGCCA will be joining the ACS GCI in Portland next June for the 20th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference.

 

11. In June, the US Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred® program published a report that demonstrates the positive correlation between U.S. job growth and biobased products. The report was accompanied by a handy infographic that helps show the viability of the U.S. bioeconomy.

 

parisclimatetalks.JPG12. Representatives from various sectors of the chemical industry were active at the Paris Climate Summit. In particular, Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council, made forward-looking statements about the industry’s responsibility and role as the world moves forward to prevent further environmental harm. The group also put forth their plans to help meet each of the Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the United Nations Environment Programme.

 

13. Separation processes account for over a third of the energy used in chemical manufacturing. To address this, Alt Sep (Sustainable Separations Processes) Project was initiated by the ACS GCI Chemical Manufacturers Roundtable. Sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the project is rooted in a collaborative partnership between the ACS GCI and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), this initiative aims to fundamentally change the way we apply separation technologies in chemical manufacturing. There are also opportunities for the community to get involved.

 

14. In April, Scientists with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California achieved a breakthrough for the environment. Through a combination of nanowires and bacteria to mimic photosynthesis, researchers found a solar energy-powered way to convert carbon dioxide into valuable chemical products. Conversion of carbon dioxide and other materials to chemicals through biosynthetic routes has been gaining traction all year. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Image credit: energy.gov

 

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15. The Guardian hosted a “making green chemistry mainstream” event in New York City this September to address challenges and overwhelming opportunities in green chemistry. A series of articles covering the event provided unprecedented coverage of the field by a global publication.

 

 

 

What would be your top green chemistry stories from 2015? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

Vermont Chemical Reporting Rule Moves Forward, but with Delay

December 16, 2015 | The National Law Review

The Vermont Department of Health won approval for its new, burdensome children’s product green chemistry reporting program from the state’s Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules in November 2015.

 

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Endocrine Disruptors: European Commission 'breached law'

December 16, 2015 | BBC News

The European Court of Justice has ruled that the European Commission has not been quick enough in identifying and banning potentially harmful "endocrine disruptor" chemicals.

 

Young Scientists Receive UNESCO Environmental Awards

December 16, 2015 | Sputnik News

UNESCO grants have been awarded to young scientists from six countries for research in environmental protection and human health under a program run by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the Russian company PhosAgro.

 

Metabolic Pathway in Cyanobacteria Could Yield Better Biofuels

December 15, 2015 | Biomass Magazine

Scientists from the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory discovered that a metabolic pathway previously only suggested to be functional in photosynthetic organisms is actually a major pathway and can enable efficient conversion of carbon dioxide to organic compounds.

 

DuPont Making Another Foray into the Biosciences Sector

December 15, 2015 | Elsevier

DuPont is taking its efforts to another level through a purchase of the C1 platform from Dyadic International.

 

Cost of Banning BPA in till Receipts Outweighs Benefits, EU Agency Concludes

December 14, 2015 | Chemistry World

The ECHA’s committee for risk assessment (RAC) ruled that there is a risk of BPA exposure for the unborn children of pregnant cashiers who handle large numbers of cash receipts. In light of this, the RAC called for a restriction on BPA in thermal paper.

 

Entrepreneurs Turn Billion Dollar Seafood Waste into Profitable Products

December 14, 2015 | The Guardian

From wallets to antibacterial fabric, innovators are turning once discarded fish waste into money.

 

New, Fully Recyclable and Biodegradable Plastic Could Change the World

December 12, 2015 | ZME Science

Colorado State University chemists synthesized a fully recyclable, biodegradable polymer, in order to keep tons of plastic from piling up in the landfills in the future and break petroleum’s grip on the polymer industry.

 

ACS GCI in the News

 

ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy

December 17, 2015 | American Chemical Society

The 2016 ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry & Sustainable Energy will be held June 21-28 at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. Apply today!

 

Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards Program: Nominations due December 31st!

December 17, 2015 | EPA

Submit your PGCCA nominations by the end of the year! The 2016 ceremony will be held June 13, 2016 in Portland, Oregon.

 

 

 

“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.

 

Eco-Conscious Bengaluru Teenager Gives Experts Lessons on Green Chemistry

December 11, 2015 | BangaloreMirror

Ranjini Srikantan subscribes to a greener, safer world with fewer chemical hazards.

 

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How Target and Walmart Led a Push to Make Over Makeup

December 10, 2015 | GreenBiz

Target and Walmart have put pressure on their suppliers not just to disclose their use of "ingredients of concern" but to phase them out entirely.

 

Better Carbon Capture Through Chemistry 

December 7, 2015 | C&EN

Climate Change: Researchers design materials to capture carbon dioxide emissions before they hit the atmosphere.

 

Eliminating the Need for Chemistry

December 7, 2015 | C&EN

Green chemist looks to a day when many products we use are made from natural materials without synthetic modifications.

 

New Way to Make Yeast Hybrids May Inspire New Brews, Biofuels

December 5, 2015 | Science News

The makers of beer, wine, biofuels and other products that depend on yeasts may soon have many more strains of the microorganism to work with.

 

Rare Earth Metal Market Approach to $4.1 billion by 2017

December 5, 2015 | Patriarc

While there may be ample rare earth elements in the earth’s crust, the challenge is in locating reserves worth mining and putting into place the infrastructure and processes necessary to mine and process them.

 

 

“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.

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

 

I’ve just returned from a week-long trip to New Delhi and Mumbai, India and two different green chemistry conferences. Traveling to India makes for a long trip, but I am always very deeply appreciative of the tremendous hospitality, generosity and respect shown to me by our Indian colleagues; it’s very humbling. Since I was last in India around this time in 2013, it seems as though green chemistry has taken hold in India, if these Conferences are any indication. That is cause for tremendous optimism given the environmental conditions that are a consequence of rapid industrialization and the fact that few pollution controls have been rigorously enforced in years past. At least in these conferences, there was evidence of a deep commitment to making lasting changes.

 

The first conference I attended was in New Delhi and was arranged by Professor Rakesh Sharma of the University of Delhi. The conference theme was “Chemistry for Tomorrow’s World” and was largely attended by the academic community in and around New Delhi. Professor Sharma is and has been a tireless supporter and promoter of green chemistry in India since 2001, and he continues to take every opportunity to convene conferences and workshops across India. I am always impressed when he presents the history of his involvement in green chemistry over the past 14 years through a succession of conferences, symposia, workshops, television appearances and print media.

 

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The second conference I had the privilege of attending was Industrial Green Chemistry World (IGCW) 2015 in Mumbai. This is my third IGCW, and it was by far the most successful of the last three conferences I’ve attended. Nitesh Mehta, Badresh and Krishna Padia have been business partners (Newreka), founders of the Green ChemisTree Foundation, and conveners of the IGCW. It is hard to imagine the degree of their commitment to green chemistry and engineering, but the vision they have had for green chemistry and engineering has sustained them through some very difficult times for their business, and less successful conferences in past years. I don’t know of any other company in the world that even comes close to the degree of their commitment to advancing green chemistry and engineering and I am truly inspired by what they have accomplished.

 

European businesses, in addition to Indian businesses, members of the Pollution Control Board and academics were all present, with a total of about 300 registered for the two-day Conference. L’Oreal launched their sustainability plan for India at this conference, and companies like Clariant gave multiple talks about their commitment to green chemistry. After the Conference (Friday and Saturday) and this past Sunday, the Green ChemisTree foundation sponsored workshops at IICT for students, and at the National College, for teachers. I had the privilege of speaking at both these events and was especially moved by the number of teachers present on a Sunday. Sunday is the only day off in India for many, and is especially difficult for professional women as this is the only day they have to tend to things at home, so to see the commitment of so many women to being present to learn about green chemistry is very moving and humbling indeed.

 

Overall, the quality of the talks was excellent and I look forward to the next Conference in two years; if this year is any indication, it should be an excellent Conference!

 

Just before Thanksgiving I participated in a meeting of a variety of companies and other stakeholders at DuPont’s North Carolina facility. The meeting was convened by Jay Golden of Duke University and Robert Handfield of NC State. Both professors have been involved in various sustainability initiatives like the Sustainability Consortium, the Outdoor Apparel Association, etc., and were interested in seeing what they could do to help spur the development of the bio-economy. My colleague Ann Lee-Jeffs and I were attending given our work over the past year to investigate the establishment of a Biotechnology Leadership Roundtable (BTLR). The BTLR concept has been promoted in a variety of venues and we are still testing the waters to see what we can do to promote scientific collaborations in bio-based chemicals development and commercialization across the supply chain. We are hopeful that we might move this particular initiative forward in the New Year.

 

Well, it’s been an amazing year and hard to believe that it is rapidly drawing to a close. I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and a very happy, safe and prosperous New Year.

 

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

 

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“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.

Contributed by Luke T. Roling, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison

 

One of the most exciting “green” energy production technologies is low-temperature fuel cells, particularly for portable applications. These fuel cells can replace traditional combustion engines in vehicles, instead using electrochemical reactions to power human travel. In addition to being highly efficient, fuel cells offer additional opportunities to be “green” if their fuels, such as hydrogen or methanol, are renewably sourced (e.g. from biomass conversion); they therefore avoid releasing fossil fuel carbon into the atmosphere and can help mitigate climate change.

 

A substantial obstacle to the widespread implementation of fuel cell-driven vehicles is the high cost of the fuel cell catalyst – particularly at the fuel cell cathode, at which expensive platinum catalysts are generally required to yield suitable activity for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR). As a further complication, these catalysts are prone to dissolution in the fuel cell environment, further increasing the operational costs. This motivates the discovery of new catalysts with (1) reduced platinum content, to minimize cost; (2) higher catalytic activity than pure platinum; and (3) improved stability over long operating times. The ideal solution for energy production wouldn’t require the use of rare earth or platinum group elements. However, reducing the amount of platinum or palladium needed for a fuel cell while increasing its performance level is an important step in the right direction.

 

Recently, researchers developed a method for creating new catalysts based on platinum-nickel bimetallic nanoparticles. These nanoparticles undergo structural transformations to ultimately form hollow frames with platinum-skinned surfaces, and these resulting “nanoframes” demonstrated exceptional activity and stability for the ORR. However, the nanoframes might not expose the most desirable surface structures for optimal ORR activity. This work inspired the development of a new class of highly active and stable nanomaterials for the ORR that selectively expose desired crystal facets for optimizing the ORR catalytic performance.

 

Our team, composed of experts in inorganic synthesis as well as atomic-scale modeling from first-principles, has worked to develop such nanostructured electrocatalysts with high activity and stability for the ORR. These catalysts are synthesized by following specifically developed design protocols that selectively deposit layers of platinum atop palladium seeds to yield well-controlled nanocrystals in what is known as a core-shell structure. The geometry of the catalyst plays an important role in determining its surface atomic-scale structure, which in turn affects the catalytic activity. These seeds can be synthesized in a variety of well-defined shapes according to established protocols; the choice of seed determines the shape of the final electrocatalyst’s nanoparticles.

 

ORR-A-B.pngIn our initial studies, our team demonstrated the syntheses of cubes and octahedra with palladium cores and ultrathin platinum shells of only a few atomic layers (Figure 1). We performed detailed electronic structure calculations to predict the ORR activity of these catalysts, identifying that platinum is compressed slightly when deposited atop the palladium cores. This compression slightly destabilizes ORR chemical intermediates on the surface, which improves the activity of these surfaces. Our calculations offered predictions of the most active surfaces, which were verified by experimental synthesis and activity evaluation. The best nanocube and nano-octahedra catalysts were two and three times more active, respectively, than the state-of-the-art commercial pure-platinum catalyst on the basis of activity per gram of platinum, which demonstrates their improved economic viability in consumer markets. In particular, the activity of the octahedra exceeded the 2017 Department of Energy target per mass of platinum used.

 

In a follow-up work, our team extended this approach to depositing platinum atoms atop palladium icosahedral seeds. This particular geometry allowed further enhancement of the ORR activity by creating a unique platinum overlayer structure. Calculations again elucidated that the enhanced activity arose from compression of platinum in this “wavy” overlayer structure. These catalysts were found to be even more active than the cubes and octahedra, demonstrating performance nearly four times that of the commercial platinum standard. Tests of their durability in the electrochemical environment showed that all three of these particle geometries were much more stable than commercial platinum.

 

ORRhighlight.pngAlthough these catalysts had greatly improved efficiencies (activity per platinum mass), these core-shell structures still contained a substantial amount of palladium, which has a non-negligible cost of about half that of platinum. We therefore worked to design and synthesize a new class of catalysts, in which the palladium was selectively removed from the core-shell structure (Figure 2). This yielded hollow platinum “shells” only a few atomic layers thick (roughly one nanometer in total thickness). Remarkably, these shells maintained their cubic or octahedral structures, according to the geometries of the initial seeds. This property allowed these structures to maintain their high activities for the ORR; in fact, the ORR activity was further improved relative to the core-shell structures, which our calculations indicated was due to additional compression of the platinum atoms in this novel hollow shell structure. In the end, these were nearly five times as active as the commercial platinum catalyst on the basis of platinum mass; the economics of these catalysts are further improved by the removal of the palladium cores.

 

Moreover, our calculations identified unique mechanisms by which these ultrathin hollow structures likely form. We predict that platinum and palladium intermix during the core-shell formation process, and that this creates channels of palladium in the platinum shell that ultimately allow the palladium cores to be removed. Further, our calculations indicate that if the shells are too thin, too many channels are formed and the shells lack mechanical stability. If the shells are too thick, then not enough channels can form and palladium cannot be etched from the core. These findings were corroborated by the experimental observations that a critical thickness of the platinum shell is needed to successfully etch hollow structures.

 

In the future, we foresee the design and synthesis of many new materials, extending into the broader field of catalysis, designed using the principles established in these studies. In addition to predicting new catalysts for improving surface reactivity of chemical reactions, calculations are able to predict the intermixing processes of many transition metal alloys that could be used in a wide range of catalytic reactions, which inform the synthesis community about what methods might be most practical and relevant for obtaining hollow and other novel structures. In turn, the synthesis community continues to develop exciting new protocols for novel catalysts using the design principles set forth by first-principles computations. These integrated cycles of calculation, synthesis, and experimental activity evaluation continue to improve the catalyst design process for the development of new catalysts for sustainable energy and fuels/chemicals production.

 

Luke Roling is a PhD student in the group of Professor Manos Mavrikakis in the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

 

 

“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.

Contributed by Nanetta Pon, Sara Shu, and Grace Woo, University of California, Los Angeles

 

In 2013, the UCLA ACS student chapter (SMACS) held its fall kick-off meeting with guest-speaker Professor Miguel Garcia-Garibay, chemistry department chair, who talked about his green chemistry research. Grace Woo, the SMACS vice-president at the time, recalls that his presentation “made us realize that green chemistry holds many practical and beneficial applications. Indeed, many research efforts at UCLA focus on the opportunities of green chemistry, but no student groups existed at the time dedicated to informing people about developments in the field of promoting awareness.” Grace was inspired to make green chemistry a focus in SMACS activities.

 

The chapter began planning events and hosting speakers with a green chemistry focus. Officers wanted to ensure that they created events unique to SMACS, the only undergraduate chemistry group on campus.  To distinguish green chemistry activities from general sustainability activities, they stuck to the 12 principles of green chemistry while planning events. Activities had to address one or more of the principles to be considered part of SMACS’ green chemistry initiative. Application for the ACS Green Chemistry Student Chapter Award served as motivation, reminding officers to remain objective in judging whether events were meeting their green chemistry intentions.

 

Green chemistry speakers are the core of SMACS’s green chemistry activities. A recent meeting featuring UCLA’s professor Yi Tang, who received the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the EPA in 2012, was particularly popular among students. Professor Tang spoke about the biocatalytic synthesis of simvastatin, a blockbuster drug used to treat high cholesterol.  Students had the chance to learn about how pharmaceuticals are developed, and how Dr. Tang’s work produced a greener pathway to a drug already used by millions.

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Another favorite among members was the tour of the UCLA Cogeneration Plant that provides power, heat and cooling to the university. Students learned about how the plant recycles waste heat and incorporates a pilot desalination membrane system to produce steam and chilled water. At the end of the tour, students identified parts of the facility operation which represented the principles of green chemistry.

 

And of course, SMACS planned green chemistry activities for Chemists Celebrate Earth Day. The annual UCLA Earth Day Fair, which hosts institutional and student groups, was a perfect venue. SMACS’s booth on personal care products connected chemistry to a broad audience. Officers talked about the chemicals used in consumer products, whose scientific names are hard for many to decipher. Visitors then tried a natural, vegetable glycerin-based moisturizing spray prepared by the students. This community outreach event demonstrated that less hazardous, biodegradable products can serve their purpose as well as more toxic chemicals can.

 

Asked how green chemistry will benefit in his future career, Samuel Chiang, Internal Vice President, says, “My involvement in green chemistry has taught me that my future experiments, whether in research or in industry, must not only revolve around the final product; the process is equally important, if not more.”  Indeed, our future is pointed into a direction of greener, more environmental-friendly technologies. By introducing a topic so relevant to the world today, the chapter hopes to inspire the future generation of chemists to adopt green chemistry practices into whatever careers they pursue.

 

Image attribution - Charlotte Xia

 

 

 

“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.

Recyclable Bioplastics Cooled Down, Cooked Up in Chem Lab

December 3, 2015 | PHYS ORG

Colorado State University chemists made a completely recyclable, biodegradable polymer, paving a potential new road to truly sustainable, petroleum-free plastics.

 

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Picatinny Arsenal Engineers Cook Up New Recipe for Biofuel

December 2, 2015 | ECN

Engineers have partnered with private industry to harness algae’s photosynthesis ability to develop a safe, cheap, fast and environmentally-friendly way to recycle aging M6 artillery round propellant and create biofuel.

 

Take More Risks

December 1, 2015 | Nature

Scientific innovation is being smothered by a culture of conformity.

 

Lanzatech, INVISTA Find Direct Pathway to Bio-Based Butadiene

December 1, 2015 | Biofuels Digest

INVISTA and LanzaTech developed a metabolic ‘toolkit’, generating novel metabolic pathways to bio-derived butadiene and key precursors, such as 1,3 butanediol and 2,3 butanediol, resulting in new direct and 2-step processes for butadiene utilizing gas-fermentation technology.

 

Need Rare-Earths Know-How? The Critical Materials Institute Offers Lower-Cost Access to Experts and Research

December 1, 2015 | News Wire

The Critical Materials Institute is looking to strengthen its network of industrial, commercial, educational and government partners through a newly revamped and lower-cost affiliate membership program.

 

Discovery Advances Biowaste-to-Jet Fuel Research

December 1, 2015 | WSU

News Researchers at Washington State University Tri-Cities have figured out a way to successfully convert a common wood byproduct into hydrocarbon molecules that could be used as jet fuel.

 

Ionic liquids: Enzymatic cellulose processing

December 1, 2015 | Spectroscopy Now

Researchers found that enzymatic activity can be sustained in processing cellulose, from wood, for conversion of this raw material into other useful compounds.

 

Vegetable Oils Improve Super Strong Plastic Fibers

November 30, 2015 | C&EN

Polymer Chemistry: Green production method can be used to make ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene stronger, less expensive, or both.

 

 

 

“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.

Contributed by Yunejung Park, 12th grade student, Korea International School, Jeju

 

In 1933 Mrs. Brown in Ohio dyed her lashes with Lash Lure--a permanent mascara containing a chemical used to tan leather and clothes--which blinded her. Fifteen more women lost their sight and one lady died after Lash Lure treatments. This cosmetic accident led to nation-wide public campaigning by the Federal Drug Administration for new safety regulations, but it took a chemical scandal that killed more than 100 people across 15 states from the drug Elixir Sulfanilamide, and ensuing public outcry for Congress to pass the landmark Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.

 

Since then, concerns for toxins in cosmetics have escalated as research findings detected toxic chemicals in personal care products used daily: FDA study of lipsticks found lead in all 400 samples; sunscreens contain oxybenzone that mimic estrogen; nail polish has toluene that can cause anemia and birth defects; and EU bans 1,378 chemicals in cosmetics whereas US bans 11. The seventy-seven year old bill is outdated and provisions need to be added but all earlier attempts to amend the bill have failed—however, a momentum equal to that of 1938 has now arrived.

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In April 2015 a bill “to ensure the safety of cosmetics,” titled the Personal Care Products Safety Act was introduced. There have been enough press coverage, endless campaigning, and big market growth of natural and organic cosmetics worldwide to create a momentum. Probably awareness of sustainability is necessary for the future, and recognition that green is the next big enterprise for innovation and growth in the cosmetics industry created such a momentum. Nevertheless, the new bill will strengthen FDA’s authority to regulate ingredients in consumer products and require a review of five chemicals each year for safety. It would also grant FDA authority to recall products it deems harmful. The bill has created quite a buzz in the cosmetics industry.

 

It’s interesting how new policy parallels new science research. For example, Michigan State University announced investments for a new research center which will conduct basic and applied research on the safety and toxicology of ingredients for cosmetics as well as household goods. Another example concerns animal testing. In 2013 EU banned all animal tested cosmetics, as have Turkey, Korea, China, Brazil, Israel, India, and most recently Canada and Russia. As animal testing in beauty is outlawed, companies are investing in research for alternative methods. Unilever recently announced a partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency to invest in alternative safety testing for chemistry based products.

 

I regularly search online for information on cosmetics, and I’ve found that the caliber of research in cosmetics belies any prejudice that it’s somehow a “petty science,” for our everyday products result from very sophisticated science. For instance, hairspray consists of tiny polymer beads that must hold hair in place, and a NASA sponsored researcher in polymer molecular dynamics notes, "that's like taking a spot of glue and putting it between two huge steel levers and expecting it to hold the levers in place." The spray also must be resilient to humidity yet wash out of the hair. My favorite is the skin biologist who applies his former research of regression of feathers in birds to study human hair growth and loss. If policy change could harness such innovative research to create safer, greener products, I bet we will soon live in a world with less allergies, lower birth defects, cancer rates down….

 

I will soon be able to buy a shampoo or lotion without having to closely scrutinize the ingredients labels or double check my smartphone app database for toxic ingredients. Life will not only be healthier, but also smarter.

 

Yunejung Park  is a 12th grader from South Korea. She is the Founder and President of ChemClub at her school (ACS HS ChemClub member) since 10th grade.


Following independent research on toxic cosmetic ingredients in 10th grade, she has been campaigning for safe cosmetics through writing online: last summer she wrote a series of articles on history of toxic cosmetics for a smartphone app with a database on cosmetic ingredients, read by over 42,000 and received 250 likes.

 

 

 

“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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