Leading up to the GC&E Conference we will be posting interviews with our 2017 GC&E Conference organizers to learn a little more about them and the excellent sessions you can look forward to at this year’s conference!
Session: CO2 Utilization
Q: What motivates you to work in the green chemistry & engineering space?
A: Nature! Nothing relaxes me better than a walk in the woods, a hike in the mountains, or a canoe trip in the lakes of Ontario, preferably with my wife. I do not, however, want my life, or my species, to destroy the beauty around us
Q: In one sentence, describe the session you are organizing at GC&E.
A:The world has excess CO2, so let us put it to good use.
Q: What will attendees learn at your GC&E session? What makes it unique?
A: What is the world’s most abundant renewable feedstock? It is CO2 (not cellulose). Despite its infamy for global warming, it is wonderfully green. It is nonflammable, nontoxic, not ecotoxic, and it is not smog-forming or ozone-depleting. As long as we use waste CO2 rather than making new CO2, it does not contribute to global warming either. Researchers continue to find so many creative ways in which waste CO2 can be used. From making renewable fuels or greener solvents to controlling the properties and behavior of polymers, CO2 is a remarkably versatile reagent. Come and see some of the most recently discovered uses for CO2 at my session.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of the GC&E Conference (or what are you looking forward to)?
A: Talking with people: Green chemistry cannot progress nearly as rapidly if we do not communicate with each other. It is not only a question of communicating the latest results; communicating best practices is just as important. What is the best way to design a molecule or a process to be as green as possible? What is the best way to evaluate whether a newly-discovered process is actually green? How can green chemists identify the environmental problems most in need of green solutions? None of us have enough time or skills to answer all of these questions by ourselves; we need to discuss these issues with others to benefit from their insights. I have learned so much from green chemists and engineers at conferences like GC&E, and I hope to do so again this year.
Q: What are you currently focused on in your work or research?
A: “CO2 is the answer to everything.” That is the running gag in my research group. How many applications can we find for one molecule? Our work is incredibly focused in terms of the molecule we choose to play with, but very unfocused in our goals. Recently, we showed that CO2 can improve the selectivity of asymmetric hydrogenations of allylamines. Now we are making paints that are greener because they contain CO2. Another student is working on using CO2 in water purification for making potable water. We are creating CO2-switchable packing materials for HPLC columns and solid phase extraction columns to reduce use of organic solvents. Several students are developing methods for algae biomass processing, in which we use liquid CO2 to extract the lipids for biodiesel, and then use dissolved CO2 as a catalyst to convert the remaining polysaccharides into jet fuel precursors. Another student has shown that CO2-switchable solvents can be used to increase the yield of the world’s annual natural rubber crop by 50 percent without requiring any increase in the land area under cultivation. So, I am not sure that my research is focused in terms of application, but my group has a laser-like focus in terms of which molecule we like to play with.
Q: If you weren't a chemist, what would you be doing?
A: Geology. The earth is a fascinating subject to study. My office is filled with mineral samples. My father was a geophysicist, so I guess that interest rubbed off onto me. So much of our lives and our society is controlled by geological forces. Where have we chosen to build our cities? In locations that were favorable for transportation due to geological forces that control our waterways. Where do we find our resources? Their location is always controlled by geology, even for resources like forests or fresh water. Geological forces even affect international politics – there is a whole field of study called geopolitics. So many topics are exciting to learn about; I wish I could have several lifetimes so I could try several careers!
Q: When you aren't at work, how do you spend your free time?
A: Working! Well, sometimes it feels that way.
But when I choose to take free time, my preference is wildlife photography. What image can I capture? What species or mood or moment can I capture? Wildlife is so unpredictable and it is an exciting challenge to try to get the perfect photo. The setting is beautiful, the subject appealing, and the stress is zero – nobody cares if I do not get a good shot, so it is much more relaxing than writing proposals. But if I do get a striking photo, it is so satisfying. Some nature photographers go for a clear representation of the bird or animal or tree. I prefer to go for the mood, the setting or the action: a photo that portrays a feeling rather than a species.
Most importantly, I am taking a break from work, so that afterwards I can come back refreshed.
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