It’s been a busy start to the New Year. The annual GC&E conference always requires a considerable amount of effort throughout the year, and this year will be no different. Moving the conference to Portland will have its challenges, and we are always looking for new approaches to ensure that there are interesting ways of presenting the science. We’re also looking forward to the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards ceremony on the Monday evening before the Conference, and holding that event in Portland will be very different. At the end of that week, we are looking forward to holding a workshop to for the Green Chemistry Educational Roadmap, which will build on the visioning workshop we held in September of last year. In between, the ACS GCI Industrial Roundtables will be meeting and holding their annual industry poster reception. Every year I am amazed at all the activities that happen in that one week, but this year will take it to another level. It will be a great week for green chemistry and engineering, and I hope that many of you will consider joining us there!
Aside from all of our conference planning, there is the Alternative Separations to Distillation project and a workshop to be held later this week. The ACS GCI Chemical Manufacturer’s Roundtable has been driving that initiative with an inspiring degree of commitment, and we look forward to developing a credible technology roadmap in the months to come. We’re also planning to kick off the Biochemical Technology Leadership Roundtable this week. This caps a year-long effort to engage with about 50 different organizations across the bio-based chemicals value chain to see if we can’t move the industry forward. I’m excited about the possibilities for this roundtable, and I hope we are able to coalesce a group of companies and make significant progress. It’s a challenging time for bio-based chemicals given the current dip in oil prices, so all the more reason to collaborate and partner to move the bio-based economy forward.
In late January, I was invited to be a part of a workshop at University of California, Santa Barbara (USCB) convened by Prof. Eric McFarland on the future of Energy and Chemicals production. It was a great workshop and I learned a lot from many of the speakers throughout the day. The next two days I was able to attend the Materials Research Outreach Program symposium at UCSB. I unfortunately don’t get as much time as I’d like to take in talks on materials research, and it was great to see and hear all the interesting work that is being done at UCSB. All three days, however, drove home the need to do more to raise awareness about how green chemistry and engineering thinking needs to be integrated into materials research. Whether you’re talking about catalysts that use platinum group metals, or electronics that use elements like indium or the rare earths, or you’re working with nanoparticles, all of these active research programs rarely consider the sustainability of the materials and processes that are being researched and developed.
For the last several years now I have been speaking quite a bit about critical elements and the sustainability of the elements that chemists rely upon to do the interesting chemistry they do. There seems to be a major disconnect between using a particular element, say iridium for catalysis, and the associated environmental burden that comes with that mg of iridium used in the lab. Or, perhaps it’s a rare earth element and the topic of investigation is superconducting magnets that could be used for a new generation of electric vehicles or wind turbines. Regardless of the research, there seems to be little or no appreciation that there is literally mountains and rivers of waste that are associated with obtaining these materials. I hope you take the time to read Ashley Baker’s article in The Nexus this month, and I do hope more chemists think about ways of doing their research that cause less environmental impact and are more sustainable by design. As chemists, we need to be thinking more about not only doing “great” science, but science that is greatly beneficial and truly sustainable.
As always, please do let me know what you think.
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