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The GC&E Business Plan Competition is a unique program in the green chemistry community. The goal of the competition is to support and train early-stage, pre-revenue entrepreneurs to move forward with their green chemistry and engineering ideas. Today we are announcing that the competition judges have selected four semi-finalists: 3Bar Biologics, Inc., AeroClay, Grow BioPlastics and Jolt Energy Storage Technologies. The technologies proposed by our four 2016 semi-finalists range from biobased plastics for agricultural applications to improved battery systems.


The GC&E Business Plan Competition will be held in conjunction with the 20th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference on June 15, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. In addition to competing for the grand prize of $10,000, entrants will be given access to business plan training and feedback from a panel of expert judges. Each of the semi-finalists will work to develop a full business plan and raise awareness about their businesses and the competition in a social media crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe before their making their final business pitches to the judges in Portland.



To further increase the benefit of the competition to these teams, we’re adding a new component to the competition for the semi-finalist teams this year: a Business Mentorship Program. Business Mentors will provide guidance for the teams as they plan how to move their businesses forward. This program is part of our efforts to facilitate valuable networking opportunities for our semi-finalists.


Meet this year’s semi-finalists!


3Bar Biologics, Inc.


What if we could increase agricultural productivity, while decreasing dependence on synthetic fertilizer and pesticides?  3Bar Biologics is addressing this great challenge by helping farmers increase crop yields sustainably using beneficial microbes.  3Bar Biologics developed a unique, simple-to-use delivery system that protects the microbes until the farmer activates the product when ready to plant.  On-site growth of beneficial microbes short-cuts the conventional supply chain, resulting in less waste, lower production costs, and fresher, more viable microbes delivered to the field.  The “secret sauce” in 3Bar Biologics’ system is unique microbes which act as living chemical factories producing a range of beneficial chemical compounds (e.g., 2,4-Diacetylphloroglucinol) that help the plant prosper.  Field trials show consistent 4-5% corn and soybean yield increases with zero incremental new chemical inputs.  3Bar Biologics’ breakthrough technology opens the door for many microbes proven in research, but never successfully commercialized to make it to the field.


Website: 3Bar Biologics, Inc.




Developed at Case Western Reserve University, AeroClay is a type of light-weight, open-cell, flame resistant foam made primarily from a clay and polymer mixture and created through an environmentally friendly freeze-drying process. The AeroClay technology provides a new approach to designing and manufacturing foams. This green process creates virtually 100% raw materials yield with almost no manufacturing landfill waste and finished goods that are reusable and biodegradable. As a platform technology, AeroClay’s advantages stem from its flexibility to choose and combine polymers and fillers, because it eliminates the need for the high heat and destructive blowing agents used to create traditional foams. AeroClay can aid in the cleaning up the environment while reducing the waste created by less sustainable products and processes. AeroClay is pursuing markets in packaging, insulation, environmental cleanup, masterbatch, and agricultural products by driving parallel strategies – introductory organic growth and collaboration with large producers for global markets.


Website: Aeroclay


Grow BioPlastics

We're a Knoxville-based startup that's looking to improve the farming and gardening industries by providing a biodegradable replacement for oil-based plastic mulch films. But making use of lignin, a waste product from the paper industry, we're improving the sustainability of agriculture and home gardening while keeping plastic and lignin from going to the landfill!


Website: Grow BioPlastics


Jolt Energy Storage Technologies


Lithium ion batteries have become an essential power source for electric and hybrid vehicles, among many other applications.  However, while a reduced dependence on fossil fuels is a nearly universally accepted societal priority, consumer acceptance (and widespread adoption) of electric vehicles has been hampered by safety issues, capacity concerns, and high costs.  Jolt Energy Storage Technologies, LLC offers a solution to this problem with its battery additives, which are engineered to prevent dangerous overcharge conditions while providing increased battery capacity.  These additives are fine-tuned to work with different battery chemistries and can be incorporated in cells with virtually no change to the manufacturing process.  Moreover, the additives will enable future cost reductions through the simplification of electronic battery management systems hardware and software.  Jolt is currently optimizing green synthetic routes to these materials, focusing on catalytic, low temperature processes that display good atom economy and reduce waste.


Website: Jolt Energy Storage Technologies


If you would like to see these business plans in action, register for GC&E! Regular registration is open. Click here for more information on GC&E.




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


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Sustainable Chemistry at Industrial Technologies

May 27th, 2016 | Suschem

Industrial Technologies 2016 will be the largest networking conference in the field of new production technologies, materials, nanotechnology, biotechnology and digital technologies in Europe this year with more than 1 250 high level delegates expected.


Sustainable Ingredients Emerging from Food Waste

May 26th, 2016 | Food IngredientsGC+News+Roundup.png

FirstGC+News+Roundup.png Sustainability and technological advances are leading to novel ingredients to emerge from food waste.


How Apple Prioritizes Sustainability in its Global Supply Chain

May 26th, 2016 | PSFK

How can a single company control the ethics and sustainability of a multinational supply chain?


Brazilian Ethics Clash Exposes Science Culture Gap

May 26th, 2016 | SCI DEV

Bureaucracy is an old enemy of Latin American science. The difficulty of importing research material — cell culture for example — and the maze of red tape that researchers must address are real obstacles.


UMass Becomes First Major Public University to Divest from Direct Fossil Fuel Holdings

May 25th, 2016 | UMASS Amherst

The University of Massachusetts today became the first major public university to divest its endowment from direct holdings in fossil fuels.


Caltech Bioengineer Becomes First Women to Covet $1.1 Million Millennium Technology Prize

May 25th, 2016 | Tech Times

Thanks to her pioneering work on "directed evolution," a professor and engineer from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has been awarded with the prestigious 2016 Millennium Technology Prize by Technology Academy Finland.



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

Dr. Yu is a keynote speaker at the 20th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in Portland, Oregon. As a chemist at the Scripps Research Institute, his work has focused on discovery and rational design of new reactions using C-H activation.1 JQY_5x7.jpg


Q: In what ways do you see your research accelerating the adoption of renewable feedstocks, such as biomass?


A:  That’s a great question. In C–H activation, in my opinion, there are two sub-fields. One has largely been attributed to the alkanes, like methane activation. Of course, this sub-field is unlikely to have a lot to do with the activation of intermediates in synthetic chemistry, so what we are trying to do is to make more complicated molecules. We consider this the second sub-field.  As you mentioned, the question becomes: how do you connect to biomass? So we’ve also thought a lot about this in our group.


To facilitate the discussion, we could divide the problem of C–H activation into “first functionalization” and “second functionalization.” While these two problems are fundamentally related, challenges and approaches for catalyst design differ significantly. The first functionalization is essentially alkane/methane activation, and by activating the C–H bonds on these substrates you introduce the first functional group to the molecule.  What we’re focused onis the following problem: can you pick up a feedstock chemical that already has a functional group, like from biomass, and from there insert a second functional group and start building complexity?  As you can imagine, unlike ethane or methane, many C–H bonds are different now due to their distal and geometric relationship with respect to existing functional groups, therefore, achieving the site-selectivity is challenging. Achieving such selectivity is essential as the distal relationship between the existing functional group and the new functional group largely defines the function of a molecule; i.e. how drugs, agrochemicals or whatever it may be, works.


Usually, we take whatever functional group we get to begin.   In our group, we’re specifically aiming for those substrates that are abundant. Whether that’s to be found in biomass or not, I’m not quite sure.  But, usually it does go back to biomass.  Basically, it has to be something that’s abundant.


I’ll give you one example that we’ve been working on for many, many years now – about 15 years. We started this project in Cambridge University. What we’re really trying to do is to use stereochemistry to gain the basic understanding needed to solve what we call the isobutyric acid problem.  One of the aims is to take isobutyric acid, and that can be viewed as biomass or an abundant bulk chemical, and then we try to functionalize this molecule at the beta-position enantioselectively. Then, you can create incredibly useful alpha-chiral centers that are cornerstones in asymmetric synthesis. The interesting part is if you are doing feedstock chemicals, your substrate scope is going to be relatively narrow, but we can use a handful of isobutyric acid analogues including pivalic acid.


The point is, that the product scope is very broad. This is because once you break the C–H bond, you insert the palladium, and then you can convert that C–H bond to many, many other bonds like C-N bonds, C-B, C-C bonds, etc. and you can make many connections. One of the famous analogies to that is found in nature. Nature takes isobutyric acid and converts it to the Roche ester. That’s only one substrate, and nature has done it very well. The Roche ester has served as one of the key chiral synthons for the synthesis of polyketides as well as many drugs and related molecules.


Nature, of course, does this very differently.  Instead of going through the asymmetric activation of the gem-dimethyl group which is too small to differentiate, enzymes perform dehydrogenation of isobutyric acid and subsequent asymmetric hydration to give the Roche ester.  In our case, the organometallic approach does have one advantage of being able to make a wide range of carbon-carbon and carbon-heteroatom bonds in addition to carbon-oxygen bond. As such, we can make a diverse range of compounds rapidly.  I guess that’s one example.  I don’t want to bombard you with many examples, but that’s one of my favorites.  From isobutyric acid, you can also think about pivalic acid.  It’s the same idea, and then you can make many chiral quaternary carbon centers.  So the beauty is that the substrate scope is very limited – because it has to be if you’re talking about biomass feedstocks – but the scope of the utility is not. You can make so many products with many C–H bonds present in substrates.  In isobutyric acid alone you have six C–H bonds that you could potentially turn into all kinds of functional groups.


Even if the number of biomass feedstocks is low, you can get a huge variety of molecules if you can cleave the C–H bonds.  If you can’t do C–H activation, biomass is very limited in terms of synthesis because you’ll always have the six C–H bonds from the dimethyl sticking there, and that prevents diversification.  Even if you can make a million compounds, they’ll all look basically like isobutyric acid.  So it’s very important that you actually break those C–H bonds and make them unrecognizable. Then you access true diversity.


Q:  In your research, you often use palladium catalysts and volatile organic solvents. How necessary are these kinds of sustainability trade-offs or are you looking for alternative materials (i.e. could you reduce critical material use or solvent-less or aqueous reactions)?


A:  There are many layers to that question. As you can imagine, it’s very complicated. Let’s talk about E-factor; there are so many parameters that go into that equation. The first question you should ask when you think about palladium catalysis in C–H activation is how many steps are you really cutting out from the synthesis? Recently, we have a process route designed by Novartis cutting eleven steps to five steps. So what that means is that the big stuff – whatever solvents or even water or cheap catalyst you’re using – are now reduced to zero in those removed six steps. You’re not using any of it. That’s one big-picture thing that green chemists or any synthetic chemists are thinking about. Cutting steps is much harder than anything else. If you cut one step out, you will improve E-factor of the synthesis significantly. Indeed, C–H activation is focusing on that exact aspect. One of the biggest goals of using C-H activation in synthesis is probably cutting steps out.


The second perspective is that even if the palladium catalyst is not as environmentally friendly as something like iron, which is cheap and readily available, I would say there are ways out for palladium catalysis which have been demonstrated in industry already. First, the palladium catalyst loading is a key issue. We have to really, really reduce the catalyst loading. The second is that the ligand can be just as expensive as anything else, if not more. It’s very important that we develop very cheap, readily available ligands. One of our trademarks is the amino acid ligands. As you can imagine, it meets these criteria. So the ligand has to be considered when you’re designing a catalyst.


Third, we’re trying to immobilize the catalysis. Recently we submitted a paper in collaboration with Chris Jones at Georgia Tech through an NSF center collaboration. We immobilized the C–H activation catalyst. This way, the palladium can be re-used.


The biggest problem for palladium catalysis in C–H activation is not necessarily what I just said. The biggest problem is that when you do C–H activation you have to use oxidants. That oxidant is the most problematic from a green perspective. Quite often, they are expensive and they are used in large amounts. We focus a lot on reducing the catalyst loading as well as really trying to develop new redox chemistry that doesn’t involve expensive oxidants. This is done either by designing new redox catalysis where the oxidant is just thrown out of the equation, and we’ve done that with palladium (II) catalysts, or by trying to use air as the oxidant. In my opinion, that’s the future of many of the reactions; either using air as the oxidant, or removing the oxidant entirely. We’re also trying to further develop palladium (0) catalysts.


I hope that’s not an overwhelming amount of information, but it’s a problem I’ve been thinking about for a few years and my students are working on many ideas to solve these problems.


Q:  The palladium must at least be significantly more efficient than a stoichiometric reaction, which is something we talk about, switching from stoichiometric to catalytic. And I’ve read that sometimes nickel can work well for catalysis.


A:  If you can use nickel, that’s great. But for the transformations we want to achieve, it will take some time. We also published something on copper – using copper to replace palladium in C-H activation - but in reality it’s a long way before anyone gets even close to doing with nickel or copper what palladium can do. We can work on mimicking palladium, and eventually maybe palladium can be replaced in certain cases. On the other hand, palladium is not necessarily the problem. It’s comes down to how can we do this better.


As for the solvent, that’s a big question and something I have to admit that we haven’t really studied very hard. Although we do pay attention because we work closely with industry, and we know what kind of solvents they want. Our group has probably been the one to use many solvents for the first time for C–H activation. So we’ve developed a wide range of solvents for this application. Some of them are green, and some of them are not green. Most of the time, C-H activation reactions are stuck with one solvent like dichloroethane, and nobody wants to use that. It’s not at all green on a large scale. So we’re developing C–H activations that work with many solvents, and that gives industry a range to choose from. Industry can be very picky in what solvent they can use in process and that presents a challenge for reaction development in academic settings.


Q: What if you find that a reaction is very good for catalysis, but it’s impractical to scale-up?


A: The approach to that depends on the reason it’s not good for scale-up.  Maybe the reaction transformation is great, but maybe it’s dangerous or the catalytic loading is too high.  My honest approach would be that if a reaction transformation is very valuable and for some reason -- like safety or expense at the ton-scale -- it’s not practical, we would still be happy to publish it.  Someone may still find it very valuable, especially medicinal chemists who love transformations that lead to a new compound. Then, I have to ask myself questions. What is the problem? Is the chemistry valuable enough to try and work out a solution to make it scalable?  If it’s important enough, then I would work on it.  I would develop better ligands and better catalysts to overcome the limitations.


Q: When you’re making new compounds, like the ligands you’ve mentioned, do you assess their toxicity or potential environmental impacts?


A: Honestly, for the field of C–H activation, it’s a luxury to have any ligand that actually helps the activation. Take hydrogenation for example; In the 1960s, hydrogenation didn’t have any ligands. Nobody knew what ligand will help hydrogenation before the discovery of triphenylphosphine ligands. It took several decades and remarkable efforts to eventually develop highly efficient chiral ligands for asymmetric hydrogenation. What I’m saying is that in C–H activation, we’re still at the level of hydrogenation in the 1960s. Any ligand for accelerating C–H activation is great; otherwise, we are simply doing background reaction from the viewpoint of asymmetric catalysis. Very few ligands are available to really help C–H activation and that sounds crazy, but it’s true. By really help, I mean significantly accelerate C–H activation.  It’s just hard.  At the moment, we don’t really think about testing for toxicity and things like that. We just want to look for new ligands, new understanding, seeing what kinds of ligand scaffolding can help. Then we’ll worry about environmental issues when we have really powerful and potentially broadly useful ligands. This will take a few more years, but they are on the way.


We have been extremely lucky, though. So far, all the ligands, have turned out to be environmentally very easy to handle.  As I mentioned, they’re amino acids which are obviously not a problem, and they can be recycled and they’re biodegradable. So, we do think a little about it, but it’s not our priority at this stage.  Moving the field forward is what we’re much more worried about. When I started it was already a big field, but in the last ten years it’s gotten to much busier, to say the least. Especially the last three years.  But, in terms of solving big problems and finding broad applications, it’s just beginning. That’s my humble view, but I am not sure whether that is the consensus of the community.


Q:  You’ve said that we need to do more to engage young people in chemistry. What do you think is needed to make that happen, and do you see green chemistry playing a role?


A: Green chemistry is a convincing concept for society to accept.  But practically we need to do more that will directly drive young students into the lab.  One approach is to remove the limitations that would prevent a potential young chemist from coming to the lab.  So what are these limitations that are preventing young people from coming to the lab and doing green chemistry?  In the end of the day, it’s funding.  It would be great if someone – some charity, non-profit, or other organization – could set up more fellowships for funding students to do green chemistry. We have turned away so many talents because we don’t have the funding; Post-docs, undergrad, and graduate students.  Many undergraduate students want to do a summer internship in my lab, and I can’t even afford more than one at the most.


People asked, how do we deal with things like infectious disease?  And Bill Gates came in and said he’d set up a foundation to fund research into that.  So for green chemistry, it’s the same.  How many foundations are there funding green chemistry and giving fellowships? Without funding, it just won’t happen. At the moment the funding is so tight that not many people are doing this kind of basic chemistry. Green chemistry is just a concept or principle, but it will take basic, fundamental chemistry research to solve the problems.


Q:  What do you think of using biosynthetic methods in chemistry, like engineering microbes? It seems to be growing very quickly.


A: Oh, that’s very interesting because I was a biosynthetic Ph.D. student so I have seen both sides. The new genetic tools are providing unprecedented opportunities to explore biosynthetic pathways.  New tools help us to understand these biosynthetic routes much faster and better. But what those tools can do is unlikely going to replace what synthetic organic chemists can do.  It’s very different.  Enzyme catalysis has a long history for process.  If you have a specific known compound that you want to process you can use enzyme catalysis for a key step in some cases. These days, enzymatic hydrogenation and reductive amination are very powerful.  But that’s not to say we can replace many, many other transformations like those that organic synthetic chemistry can create, such as metathesis. They don’t have the diversity or reaction scope.  The biosynthetic reaction scope is complimentary to what chemists can do. Fundamentally, the disconnections organic chemists create are often different from what nature does.


Q: What’s your advice to students who are frustrated or feeling stuck with their research?


A: I wish I knew the answer. Of course you could advise them to take a break, go to the bar and have a beer, but that’s not necessarily going to help. When someone’s frustrated that obviously means the project’s not working. I would take a step back and ask hard questions. Why isn’t it working?  I’d re-evaluate the approach or the problem that I was working on.  If a student has doubts after serious thinking, I’d advise them to change projects.  It’s not a bad thing to do, particularly in the early stages like the first three years. I don’t usually advise my students to stick with one project forever. I always give them a couple of choices.  When they stop working on one project and start working on another, it’s interesting because a couple of months later they might come up with a different idea for the first one.  Some other colleague will have an idea or something will happen in the lab that will benefit their project.  It’s a good strategy to take a break from a project for a few months or a few weeks, but not really giving up, rather continuing to think about it.  That’s usually how it works in my lab. Sometimes a new idea will just show up without warning.



The 20th Annual GC&E Conference will be held on June 14-16, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. For more information, visit

The opinions expressed in this interview are Dr. Yu’s alone and don’t necessarily represent the views of the ACS GCI.

Global Bioenergies is one of the few companies in the world and the only one in Europe to develop a process to convert renewable resources into hydrocarbons through fermentation. The company has focused initially on the production of isobutene, one of the major building blocks of petrochemicals, which can be converted into fuels, plastics, organic glass and elastomers.


Q: My understanding is that Global Bioenergies is somewhat focused on biofuels but is also working on developing some other renewable chemicals like plastics and rubbers.


A: Our main program is targeting isobutene which is a platform chemical from which you can derive both ground and air fuels and also materials such as rubbers and plastics (PIBs, plexiglass).


Q: For those renewable biobased materials, how do you incorporate green chemistry industry in the industrial manufacturing processes? How does green chemistry inspire your technology?


A: The term “green chemistry” can be a little bit ambiguous. What we’re doing is developing a biological process. So we’re using bacteria to convert sugars into isobutene. We’re re-writing the software of the bacteria for them to produce isobutene, which is not a molecule produced in nature.


provence-928551_1920.jpgQ: Is that through directed evolution?


A: We have an integrated synthetic biology approach. We’re adding genes, deleting other genes, and improving the efficiency of enzymes which we finally insert in the genome of bacteria. We’re doing a lot of genetic manipulation on these bacteria. This is to implement an artificial metabolic pathway which goes from the core metabolites of the bacteria to isobutene.


Q: What got you started in synthetic biology, as it’s a fairly emergent field?


A: There are two founders of Global Bioenergies. My partner, Philippe Marlière, is very well known on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s the concepter of this program, and I’m a scientist myself but I’m more the “doer.” We started working on this in 2008. We raised some venture capital money in France, and were able to develop and prove our concept scientifically. We had shown at that time that we were able to teach bacteria how to produce hydrocarbons. Eventually, we reached the prototype level. Then, we had to raise more money so we brought the company public in 2011. This was intended to transform our lab proof-of-concept into a real industrial asset. Today, we are finishing the construction phase of the demo plant in Germany. It has a nameplate capacity of 100 tons of isobutene per year. We’ll complete the construction this summer, and it will start production this autumn. It’s a lot of work, and it’s very hard to convert a microbiology entity like we were into chemical engineering entity like we are now. But we’re finding success throughout this transition.


All this is in preparation of the first full-size commercial plant to be put online in late 2018 in Eastern France. We’ll be working together with Cristal Union, one of the main sugar producers in France.


Q: What do you think has enabled that success in commercializing?


A: If we look at what happens to comparable companies in Europe and the US, there is always a death valley between the lab and the commercial plant. A lot of problems usually come from the fact that the processes are difficult to scale up. Each time most processes are scaled, some of the efficiency and performance is lost. That’s not what we observe in our case. I think we have a magic bullet at Global Bioenergies, coming from the fact that our process directly produces a gas. The gas volatilizes from the fermentation broth and this greatly simplifies things on the engineering side. It means we don’t face any toxicity issues for the bacteria. The ramp-up will therefore be quick and not as costly as has been experienced in other situations.


Q: You’ve partnered with LanzaTech, who we also work quite closely with. What do you think you’ve gained from that partnership?


A: LanzaTech is one of a number of our partners. We also have other partners like the Cristal Union, a leader in the European sugar industry, and Audi, the car manufacturer. We’ve been involved with LanzaTech since 2011. What we’re developing with them is a second-generation of our process. So, our first generation is based on sugar as a feedstock such as from corn, sugar beets, or agricultural waste. But with LanzaTech, we’d have second-generation feedstocks derived from industrial gases, such as exhaust gas from steel mills. This contains a lot of carbon, especially carbon monoxide. Our aim is to convert these gases into isobutene.


Q: How does this industrial model fit into the idea of a “circular economy”?


A: The idea of a circular economy fits well with what we’re doing with LanzaTech in using steel mill exhaust gas, and it also fits with the first generation of our process where our feedstock is plant-based material. It’s really circular. The plants are harvesting the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, where it is then converted into sugars. We take the sugar and convert it to hydrocarbons which then end up in the tank of a car where it’s burnt. Eventually it ends up as carbon dioxide. In this circle, the carbon dioxide could then be harvested by the next generation of plants. If this process was optimal, we’d have absolutely no production of carbon dioxide. Of course, you have a cost at each step such as during agriculture, transportation, etc. so you’re not carbon neutral. However, it’s still three to five folds less than what traditional, oil-based industries produce for the same amount of gasoline or weight of material. What we see as our mission for the planet is to complement renewable electricity like wind and solar with our own renewable gasoline for long range transportation, renewable jet fuels and renewable materials.


Q: What are the biggest challenges facing biosynthetic and biobased technologies?


A: There are two major challenges. One is the technology itself. It’s difficult to bring these technologies to commercial scale and performance. We expect that Global Bioenergies has the upper hand because of our gas fermentation strategy. The second thing is the economy. Today, the world of industrial biology is facing strong headwinds because the price of oil is very low, but we expect that to change in the next few years.


Q: Finally, based on your experience in starting up a company, what would your advice be to entrepreneurs just beginning in this field? 


A: Focus on only one thing. Don’t try to change several planets; changing one is already a lot.




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


In less than a month we’ll be in Portland, OR, for the 20th Annual GC&E Conference and I hope many of you have made plans to attend.  We are very grateful to our Organizing Committee, Session Chairs, keynote speakers and many others who have contributed in so many ways to making this conference the success it will be.  Between Monday morning’s student workshop and the end of the green chemistry education roadmap on Saturday afternoon, there will be non-stop activity.  Whether you’re from industry, academia, or government, there’s something of interest for you during the week; something to learn, something to take back home with you, something that inspires you.  I hope to see you there!


Earlier this month I was privileged to be a part of a LAUNCH Big Think for chemistry.  In case you’ve missed me mentioning LAUNCH previously, I would encourage you to have a look at what they do.  Our LAUNCH colleagues have been focused on making an impact in the development of more sustainable materials, and work to connect entrepreneurs with resources that will help move businesses forward through commercialization of innovative, sustainable products.  We share a common vision that sustainable and green chemistry needs to be implemented throughout the supply chain of products, and chemicals are in pretty much every supply chain.  So it’s a daunting systems-level problem.   I am grateful that they are convening some great thinkers to try to focus greater awareness on this issue, and that over time these efforts will lead to pivotal solutions across multiple supply chains.


I was also involved in workshop that is part of a multi-year effort spearheaded by the Health and Environmental Sciences Institute to assist businesses with alternative assessments.  I’m pleased to see that the effort is progressing.   There were three teams focusing on integrating exposure considerations into the hazard assessment, what to do about data gaps, and multi-criteria decision making methodologies.  For anyone who is responsible for product development, specifications of buildings, or component manufacture, there is a bewildering array of decisions to be made to ensure that whatever is being built or brought to market is made as safe as possible for humans and the environment.  This is a tall order for anyone who has tried to do it, but I’m pleased to see that more tools are being developed to assist.  Our ability to avoid regrettable substitutions in products we make will, over time, improve, and that’s a good thing.


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






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This year, heading to Portland, Oregon for the 20th Annual GC&E isn’t the only new and exciting feature! ACS GCI and the GC&E Committee will be hosting a Fun Run and Pub Crawl for those who are interested in participating.


Interested in exploring Portland’s waterfront?


Join us for a 2.7 mile run, walk or jog at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday morning. On the route, you can enjoy Portland’s historic water fountains, called Benson Bubblers, and a view along the Willamette River. Please meet at the Hilton’s rear entrance on SW Broadway.


Join GC&E session organizers on Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. for Green Chemistry on Tap!


Conference attendees can gather in groups led by a session organizer on a green chemistry topic of their choice. Each group will visit one of Portland’s many local pubs and breweries to discuss ideas, challenges and more with fellow green chemists. Follow the group with your topic of interest to one of our featured pubs. Pub crawl participants should gather at registration. The three participating pub locations are: Fat Head's Brewery, Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House, and Rogue Distillery and Public House.





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

Contributed by Dawn Holt, Project Manager, ACS Green Chemistry Institute®


The momentum continues.  Over the past year you’ve heard us talk about the chartering and development of the Green Chemistry Education Roadmap.  We’ve assembled sessions at our GC&E Conference, held a visioning workshop, hosted an Ask the Innovators event, and more to keep you informed and engaged.  Our next effort includes involving the community to provide feedback on the vision and core competencies of the Roadmap.


The crux of the Green Chemistry Education Roadmap is the development of its core competencies.  The Green Chemistry Core Competencies are the bridge connecting the vision of the roadmap and actionable goals to equip college graduates with green chemistry knowledge, skills and attitudes following completion of a chemistry, chemical engineering, or allied sciences degree.  In an effort to achieve our shared vision where green chemistry is routine chemistry practice, we need your help in providing feedback regarding the four core competencies (below).


Green Chemistry Education Core Competencies:


  1. Graduates will be able to design and/or select chemicals that improve product and sustainability (societal/human, environmental and economic) performance from a life cycle perspective.
  2. Graduates will be able to design and/or select chemical processes that are highly efficient, that take advantage of alternative feedstocks, and that do so while generating the least amount of waste.
  3. Graduates will understand how chemicals can be used/integrated into products to achieve the best benefit to customers while minimizing life cycle sustainability impacts.
  4. Graduates will be able to think about and make decisions taking into account life cycle thinking and systems analysis.


We would like to hear from you about the core competencies. Are any competencies missing and/or should any competencies be eliminated?  Are there any specific changes that should be made in order to clarify the competencies and/or focus their content?


In particular, we would like your suggestions for how each may be improved in order to better serve its function within the roadmap. To learn more about the Roadmap and the core competencies, visit here.  To provide us feedback, visit our online survey.  We look forward to hearing from soon.




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The sessions in this year’s 20th Annual GC&E Conference are packed with the latest research and discoveries in green chemistry and engineering. Take a look through the sessions – as described by the organizers themselves – to learn more about what real-world challenges will be addressed at the 20th anniversary event.


Session:  Exploring opportunities for green chemistry educators and researchers to address the social and environmental (in) justices of chemical exposure


Organizer: Dr. Ed Brush, Bridgewater State University


As “green chemists” we share a set of common principles that serve to guide us in making smart choices in how we design, make, use and dispose of chemicals and chemical products.  Chemicals provide the function that consumers demand in everyday products.  However, we also need to be aware of the unintended consequences of chemicals on human and environmental health.  Hazardous chemicals are disproportionally impacting children and adults in low income, minority neighborhoods, while the presence of naturally-occurring and human made chemicals restrict access to clean air and water.  This violates our definition of social and environmental justice where all people, regardless of race or economic status, have the right to live, work, play and learn in healthy, safe environments.  Green chemistry has the potential to offer solutions to help correct some of these disparities.


This unique symposium will bring together a group of participants who will explore and better understand the disparities in how hazardous chemicals impact society.  The symposium will start with a brief discussion about the session goals, and to survey the participants understanding of the benefits and unintended consequences of chemicals and chemical products.  Our speakers will address some of the current issues of social disparities related to chemical exposure, the type of changes needed in chemistry education, and how the field of green chemistry might offer solutions to achieve social and environmental justice.  The symposium will conclude with an interactive discussion as we plan our next steps, and how we might establish transdisciplinary collaborations between the social sciences and green chemistry practitioners to address the social and environmental (in) justices of chemical exposure.


Session: Moving towards more sustainable chemical building blocks


Organizer: Dr. Katalin Barta, Stratingh Institute of the University of Groningen


Chemical catalysis will play a central role in enabling the efficient conversion of renewable materials to useful chemical building blocks or fuels. The design of the novel catalysts will have to accommodate the increased level of functionality present in the renewable biopolymers. New creative solutions are needed for depolymerization, (partial) defunctionalization and selective bond cleavage reactions. Multiple sessions within this symposium will be dedicated to a range of talks from research areas related to the conversion of lignin, cellulose or fatty acids. Keynote speakers will include internationally recognized experts in the corresponding fields from the United States, Europe and Asia.


Session: Challenges, tools, and innovation in the apparel and footwear sector


Organizer: John Frazier, ACS GCI Governing Board Advisor and Independent Consultant (Previous, Senior Director of Chemistry, NIKE Explore Team)


The manufacturing of materials and the production of apparel and footwear continues to consume a high volume of chemicals, water, and energy. This session will discuss how green chemistry tools and innovation are being applied to some of this sector’s challenges. We will explore chemical selection/traceability, the necessity of high performance water repellency, durable colors, water based materials, and renewable content. Attend this session to see how innovators are moving this sector into the 21st century through the application of better chemistry.




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Contributed by Dr Nathalie BEREZINA, Chief technical officer- Downstream, Ynsect


Insects are the most abundant eukaryotes worldwide. More than million species have been identified so far, and it is among insects that the room for discovery is estimated to be the largest. However, until very recently insects have been considered pests, and a number of insecticides, pesticides and other biologic weapons against them were developed. At Ynsect we believe that insect’s tremendous potential can be used to help us deal with some of the most challenging issues humanity is currently facing such as raw material shortage, the need for smart materials, and discovery of novel molecules to fight against multi-resistant microorganisms and other diseases.


Antoine Hubert Laboratoire.jpgAfter an extensive screening of several, among the most common, insect species Ynsect decided to focus first on a mealworm, Tenebrio molitor. This choice was guided by several criteria, among them the fact that this is an indigenous insect. This small beetle most probably adapted his natural behavior thousands of years ago, when wheat started to be extensively exploited by humans. Also, this insect is not social, not jumping and not flying. to make the first ever industrial scale rearing unit, we thought, “let’s try to avoid some unnecessary difficulties!” Also, T. molitor naturally consumes wheat bran, among many different byproducts of agro-industry. These by-products are then not a waste, but not a noble raw material, therefore no major sanitary issues or competition with human nutrition can be foreseen. Finally, the inner composition of T. molitor is extremely interesting, indeed, less wet than many other organisms, it contains up to 40% dry matter, which is mainly composed by proteins, up to 55%, lipids – 30% and chitin – 5%, the ashes counting for less than 3%.


Moreover, the specific proteins present in the mealworms have shown a particularly outstanding efficiency at growing rainbow trout, leading to an enhancement of up to 30% growth of juveniles (Armenjon, al., 2015, in proceedings of Aquaculture Europe conference). The fatty acid composition of lipids is also of particular interest, as  it exhibits a very peculiar equilibrium among ω6 and ω9 unsaturated fatty acids. This makes it an ingredient of Ynsite Dole 16-02-16.jpgchoice for specific feed and food applications but also allows its non-nutritional utilizations for the synthesis of non-polyurethane isocyanates, or surfactant or even high quality soaps for cosmetic and body care applications (Figovsky O. et al., 2013, PU Magazine, 10, 1-8). Also, chitin, contained in insects’ cuticles is an extremely valuable high-added value product. The proprietary methods of its extraction allowaccess to a high quality biomaterial, which can be further deacetylated to get chitosan, an extremely versatile biopolymer with numerous applications, namely in cosmetics and medicine (Khor H, Wan ACA. Chitin: fulfilling a biomaterials promise. Elsevier Insights, 2nd Ed., 2014), its further modifications and applications are currently under investigation. Finally, even feces produced by the insects when growing are used as fertilizers, as their composition of essential elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium corresponds to the requirements of several superior plants.


The success of Ynsect relies on a strong commitment of its founders, but also on the multicultural and multidisciplinary highly skilled and highly motivated team. Today, Ynsect represents a team of more than 40 people, the strongest portfolio of patents in this new industry and a first-of-its-kind demonstrating unit able to produce significant volumes to address its first markets, i.e. premium pet food. Tomorrow, Ynsect will be producing up to several millions tons of products, mainly for the feed industry, but also for the green chemistry industry, and maybe even for the food industry. It will be producing it through breakthrough units, located all over the world, serving customers with performance, volumes, and quality. And it will do it with the same vision which led to the funding of the company: making the best out of insects.




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Contributed by Ashley Baker, Research Assistant, ACS Green Chemistry Institute®


Some dedicated researchers literally look high and low for new compounds to be used in products like pharmaceuticals. The vast majority of chemical building blocks, however, rely on a common set of seven bulk organic chemicals.  These seven precursor chemicals – methanol, ethylene, propylene, butadiene, xylenes, benzene and toluene - are not only produced in some of the highest volumes worldwide, they’re also derived almost exclusively from petroleum.


Computational analysis has shown that the more times a chemical has been used in synthesis, the more it becomes a molecular “celebrity.”  A set of core molecules, which represents only 4% of all organic compounds, are involved in over 35% of known reactions, and give rise to more than 78% of the known organic chemical universe.  This results in a low level of chemical diversity, and doesn’t make apparent other options that may be less intrinsically hazardous.  And the data show a troubling trend to boot – as developing countries produce and use more chemicals, they’re relying on the same petroleum-derived starting materials.



Of course, it’s only natural that chemists use the building blocks they’re familiar with. They ensure thermodynamically and kinetically favorable reactions, result in the highest yields, react in predictable ways, are “easily” obtained (i.e. lowest cost), and generally don’t require sophisticated reactors or laboratory technology. Yet, a look at our standard set of chemical building blocks begs the question: are chemists inherently limiting their ability to innovate with their loyalty to the familiar?  Certainly there are molecules with unique biological properties for treating disease, for example, which have yet to be discovered.


As technologies emerge to produce chemicals biosynthetically, another question arises: should the focus be on creating these same chemicals – and wedding ourselves to their associated risks – or are there other kinds of chemicals available to us, but hidden, tucked away in common things like mangroves and dairy products, that are waiting to be put to a different use? Not only do these new molecules need to be discovered, but it’s imperative that chemists adopt synthetic biology as just another synthesis tool to broaden their ability to make useful and more sustainable chemical transformations.  In 2013, annual production capacity for renewably-sourced chemicals was approximately 113 MMT, including nearly 89 MMT of ethanol capacity. That’s less than a third of the global production of the seven bulk organic chemicals mentioned earlier.


What will it take for renewable and sustainably-derived chemical building blocks to replace the large volumes of petroleum-derived chemicals currently used? There are a wide range of initiatives and research projects that are building a revised chemical library consisting of biobased and renewable alternatives.  Simple bio-based chemical building blocks like ethylene derived from ethanol hold promise for replacing their naphtha-derived counterparts. In addition to avoiding the use of fossil fuels, a larger chemical library means more options as we explore and design alternative chemicals and chemical processes that are safer for humans and the environment.  As biosynthetic chemistry advances, it will enable the development and utilization of an enzyme’s high selectivity to functionalize molecules in ways that are not practical through conventional organic synthetic chemistry routes.


Combining biological approaches with traditional synthetic organic chemistry will give us access to molecules with new functionality in fewer, more efficient steps. Broad approaches to finding different chemicals are helping to define new classes of compounds that may offer interesting alternatives to standard synthetic route strategies.  An Australian biodiscovery company, for example, is working to discover new chemical structures and families from a vast array of microbial outputs.  The potential for discovering new functionalities from microbes that can be added to existing chemical structures is, for all practical purposes, endless. Another implication of research into the use of synthetic biology is the possibility of producing unique, highly tailored products and materials.


On the other hand, there are a large number of projects aimed at tackling one chemical challenge at a time, as for example replacing synthetic styrene-butadiene latex with a biodegradable lignin-based adhesive.  Materials such as plant proteins are also being explored for a variety of different end use applications.  The results of studies like these is that in many cases the new materials have improved properties over their petroleum-based counterparts, like plastic films with better strength and elasticity.  While these examples are many and compelling, it is unfortunate that the path to commercialization continues to be challenging.


Still, expanding our chemical library is an incredible opportunity for entrepreneurs. Bio-based, renewable and potentially more sustainable chemicals from small start-ups are working to develop markets to increase the demand for novel and more sustainable chemical alternatives. The ACS GCI recently started the ACS GCI Biochemical Technology Leadership Roundtable, uniquely devoted to catalyzing and enabling the bio-based and renewable chemicals economy by promoting the underlying science required for the development and implementation of bio-based and renewable chemical technologies.  However, with petroleum at such a low cost, these start-ups are struggling and many technical challenges remain.


From pine trees to yeast, there are huge possibilities for a  more sustainable chemistry enterprise in the future.  It seems that every day there’s another breakthrough in a biosynthetic method, or another start-up has begun making chemicals from waste, or from some other bio-based source.  Although the widespread adoption may be slow-going, more researchers and businesses continue to pursue success in creating safer, financially beneficial, and more robust products through an increasingly diverse and more sustainable chemical library.


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Walmart Grows the Chemical Footprint Movement

May 13, 2016 | GreenBiz

Walmart announced in April that it has removed 95 percent of the 10 highest priority chemicals targeted by its pioneering Sustainable Chemistry Policy.


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The UO's New Innovation Hub Opens in Downtown Eugene

May 11, 2016 | University of Oregon

UO President Michael Schill, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy and UO alumnus Allyn Brown cut the ribbon on the UO’s new downtown innovation hub Tuesday afternoon and declared the 12,800-square-foot space known as 942 Olive Street officially open.


BioAlabama: Entrepreneurship and innovation that creates jobs

May 11, 2016 | Bio Alabama

Even after 20 years in existence say the name BioAlabama and chances are few will recognize it let alone know what it does.


Deinove Partners with TWB to Optimize Deinococcus Production

May 11, 2016 | Biomass Magazine

Deinove, a biotech company developing innovative processes for producing biofuels and biobased chemicals by using Deinococcus bacteria as host strains, announced a technology collaboration with Toulouse White Biotechnology, a pre-industrial demonstrator in industrial biotechnology based on renewable carbon.


Lygos, Sirrus Announce Synthesis of Biobased Methylene Malonates

May 10, 2016 | Biomass Magazine

Lygos Inc. and Sirrus Inc. have jointly announced that Sirrus has successfully synthesized its Chemilian 1,1 di-substituted alkenes using Lygos' bio-DEM.


UO Opens Bowntown Building to Support Green Start-ups

May 10, 2016 | Daily Emerald

As part of the agreement, “The University agreed to renovate and convert the underutilized structure in a space that would support RAIN, the Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network,” according to a press release.


Mohan to Conduct Green Chemistry Workshops in Asia

May 10, 2016 | Illinois Wesleyan University

llinois Wesleyan University’s Ram Mohan will help spread awareness of the importance of green chemistry at several workshops in Asia this summer.


Scientists Brew Jet Fuel in One-Pot Recipe

May 10, 2016 | Phys Org

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have engineered a strain of bacteria that enables a "one-pot" method for producing advanced biofuels from a slurry of pre-treated plant material.


Why Nature is an Engineer’s Best Inspiration

May 10 2016 | PRI

Have you ever flown on a plane? Or used Velcro to hold two things together? If so, you’ve benefitted from biomimicry, an approach to solving human problems through nature-inspired innovations.


First Single-Enzyme Method to Produce Quantum Dots Revealed

May 9, 2016 | Science Daily

Biological manufacturing process produces equivalent quantum dots to those made chemically -- but in a much greener, cheaper way.


An Inside Look at L'Oreal's Sustainability Makeover

May 9, 2016 | GreenBiz

For a large corporate firm chugging along in the ocean of international commerce, it takes a lot of effort to radically change direction.


Edinburgh Scientists use Spinach to Help Make Artificial Limbs

May 6, 2016 | The Scotsman

Scottish scientists are using a novel product to transform the production of various plastic products including prosthetic limbs – spinach.




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Contributed by Dr. Zhichao Hu, Materials Science and Engineering, Rutgers University


Many of us have heard of wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient lighting, but we rarely ask what is behind these clean energy applications. A group of critical materials including rare earth (RE) elements is a key component for clean energy innovation. The Critical Materials Institute (CMI) was created in response to the spike in RE prices and subsequent supply crisis a few years ago. Although RE prices have dropped since then, China still controls over 90% of the global RE production. Developing RE substitutes, establishing domestic supplies, and promoting reuse and recovery are essential to American competitiveness in clean energy technologies.


IMG_0389.JPGThe thermodynamics (thermo) team led by Prof. Richard E. Riman, part of the enabling science branch of CMI, consists of researchers from Rutgers University, University of California Davis, and OLI Systems, Inc. Aiming to provide thermodynamic data for critical materials to other CMI partners, the team thrives on forging collaborations within this innovation hub and helping its partners reach their project goals. One of the team’s long-term objectives is to help recover RE from phosphate fertilizer production wastes. Global phosphate deposits contain 27 million tons of RE, equal to nearly 200 years of the current world demand, and 38% of these RE end up in the 150 million tons of phosphogypsum (PG) waste generated annually during global phosphate fertilizer production. PG piles in central Florida constitute some of the highest points in the state. Although ‘closed’ piles are often revegetated and monitored for acid and or metal releases to the immediate surroundings, they still occupy acres of potential farm land and pose potential environmental threats. Extracting RE from PG is a first step towards trash-to-treasure transformation. The thermo team is currently collaborating with researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) led by David DePaoli and researchers at the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute led by Patrick Zhang to develop a water-based environmentally friendly process to extract RE from PG. This approach could potentially supply RE equivalent to 20% of annual world demand.


CMI researchers are also exploring various other green approaches to improve and increase RE recovery. David Reed at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and Yongqin Jiao at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are using microorganisms to achieve this goal. These two groups of researchers are using bacteria which produce acids to leach RE from waste feedstocks such as lamp phosphor powders, RE-containing catalysts, and RE ores. The leached RE can subsequently be collected by a genetically engineered bacterium which expresses specific RE-binding peptides on its cell surface (Environ. Sci. Technol., 2016, 50, 2735). Membrane-based or electrochemical recovery methods are also being evaluated by other CMI research groups.


Cherepy_Phosphors_4.pngComplementary to reuse and recovery, developing RE-substitutes is also crucial to advancing clean energy technologies. CMI researchers are investigating the use of earth abundant elements with desirable emission properties to replace RE in the crystal lattices of phosphors. In the photo, Nerine Cherepy of LLNL is illuminating a number of lighting phosphors with a UV lamp, including a new manganese-doped aluminum nitride (AlN:Mn) red phosphor (at right, 4th from bottom) which is intended to serve as a RE-free replacement for the current yttrium europium oxide (YEO) phosphor widely deployed in fluorescent lighting. A replacement for the green terbium-doped lanthanum phosphate (LAP) phosphor is also pictured. This work was performed by scientists at LLNL, ORNL, General Electric and Ames Laboratory (Opt. Mater., 2016, 54, 14). The author of this feature article also has experience in designing RE-free phosphors. This technology (featured at an ACS press conference) immobilizes organic chromophores into rigid coordination polymers to fine-tune their emission and increase emission efficiency and thermostability. RE-free yellow phosphors created using this approach (Chem. Comm., 2015, 51, 3045 and J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2014, 136, 16724) have emission efficiency comparable to the commercially available cerium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet.


Developing new materials or new processes to reduce RE consumption, replace RE entirely, or recycle RE from waste products is just the first step; evaluating their potential impacts on the environment is also important. Yoshiko Fujita at INL is leading a study on the effects of wastewaters generated by new CMI processes on microorganisms with a focus on biological wastewater treatment systems (Environ. Sci. Technol., 2015, 49, 9460). Her team’s work can help guide the selection of components and processes that will improve the RE demand/supply balance while also protecting the environment.


RE elements are at the core of many clean energy technologies. CMI’s initiatives in diversifying and expanding critical materials production, promoting reuse and recovery, and developing substitutes to reduce and eliminate RE-dependence play a vital national role in achieving critical materials sustainability and U.S. energy security.




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The $100 Billion Business Case for Safer Chemistry

May 6, 2016 | GreenBiz

What would be the value to businesses and our economy if safer chemistry replaced conventional approaches? Is there a way to put a monetary value on the risks and opportunities?


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Ecovative Design's Mushroom Materials Feeding New Generation of Interior Designers

May 5, 2016 | TimesUnion

Green Island firm making eco-friendly products for designers.


The Future of Low-Cost Solar Cells

May 2, 2016 | C&EN

Perovskite and other emerging photovoltaic technologies grab headlines. But will they ever come to market?


What’s in Those New Plastic Pipes Delivering Drinking Water?

May 2, 2016 | Ensia

Lingering questions leave some concerned about a new generation of plumbing material.


Perspectives: Back to the future of chemistry

May 2, 2016 | C&EN

A chemistry stalwart says the field must remain the creative and useful science, and not become the narrow science


Mixed Outlook for Ethanol–Petrol Blends

April 28, 2016 | Chemistry World

The use of biofuels to combat climate change is having an unexpected impact on air quality, according to UK researchers.




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