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What were the most popular sustainability research topics in 2017? Here's a list of the most downloaded ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering articles from the last year.



James Coombs OBrien, Laura Torrente-Murciano, Davide Mattia, and Janet L. Scott.

Continuous Production of Cellulose Microbeads via Membrane Emulsification

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (7), pp 5931–5939

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.7b00662



Mukesh Kumar Kumawat, Mukeshchand Thakur, Raju B. Gurung, and Rohit Srivastava. Graphene Quantum Dots from Mangifera indica: Application in Near-Infrared Bioimaging and Intracellular Nanothermometry.

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (2), pp 1382–1391

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b01893



Subhajyoti Samanta, Santimoy Khilari, Debabrata Pradhan, and Rajendra Srivastava.

An Efficient, Visible Light Driven, Selective Oxidation of Aromatic Alcohols and Amines with O2 Using BiVO4/g-C3N4 Nanocomposite: A Systematic and Comprehensive Study toward the Development of a Photocatalytic Process.

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (3), pp 2562–2577

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02902



Daniel M. Miles-Barrett, James R. D. Montgomery, Christopher S. Lancefield, David B. Cordes, Alexandra M. Z. Slawin, Tomas Lebl, Reuben Carr, and Nicholas J. Westwood.

Use of Bisulfite Processing To Generate High-β-O-4 Content Water-Soluble Lignosulfonates.

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (2), pp 1831–1839

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02566



Dingze Lu, Hongmei Wang, Xiaona Zhao, Kiran Kumar Kondamareddy, Junqian Ding, Chunhe Li, and Pengfei Fang.

Highly Efficient Visible-Light-Induced Photoactivity of Z-Scheme g-C3N4/Ag/MoS2 Ternary Photocatalysts for Organic Pollutant Degradation and Production of Hydrogen.

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (2), pp 1436–1445

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02010



Aleksandra Paruzel, Sławomir Michałowski, Jiří Hodan, Pavel Horák, Aleksander Prociak, and Hynek Beneš.

Rigid Polyurethane Foam Fabrication Using Medium Chain Glycerides of Coconut Oil and Plastics from End-of-Life Vehicles.

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (7), pp 6237–6246

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.7b01197



Ashley DeVierno Kreuder, Tamara House-Knight, Jeffrey Whitford, Ettigounder Ponnusamy, Patrick Miller, Nick Jesse, Ryan Rodenborn, Shlomo Sayag, Malka Gebel, Inbal Aped, Israel Sharfstein, Efrat Manaster, Itzhak Ergaz, Angela Harris, and Lisa Nelowet Grice

A Method for Assessing Greener Alternatives between Chemical Products Following the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry.

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (4), pp 2927–2935

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.6b02399



Binbin Jin, Guodong Yao, Xiaoguang Wang, Kefan Ding, and Fangming Jin.

Photocatalytic Oxidation of Glucose into Formate on Nano TiO2 Catalyst.

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (8), pp 6377–6381

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.7b00364



Wenguang Tu, You Xu, Jiajia Wang, Bowei Zhang, Tianhua Zhou, Shengming Yin, Shuyang Wu, Chunmei Li, Yizhong Huang, Yong Zhou, Zhigang Zou, John Robertson, Markus Kraft, and Rong Xu.

Investigating the Role of Tunable Nitrogen Vacancies in Graphitic Carbon Nitride Nanosheets for Efficient Visible-Light-Driven H2 Evolution and CO2 Reduction.

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (8), pp 7260–7268

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.7b01477



Marco Eissen and Dieter Lenoir.

Mass Efficiency of Alkene Syntheses with Tri- and Tetrasubstituted Double Bonds.

ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2017, 5 (11), pp 10459–10473

DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.7b02479







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Contributed by Max J. Hülsey, Ph.D. Candidate; Ning Yan, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, National University of Singapore


The word ‘refinery’ evokes imagery of huge chemical plants spitting out steams and flames in the process of producing gasoline, tar or other chemicals for our everyday life. Fossil fuels are still the major driving force of chemical industries — a paradigm that could be changing in the not-too-distant future.


Analogous to chemical refineries, the concept of a biorefinery has

been proposed and developed, referring to a facility that converts biomass into bio-fuels and value-added chemicals. Sugars and starch are largely utilized as starting materials, while woody biomass is becoming a more popular feedstock. In both cases, ethanol obtained via the fermentation of sugars serves as the primary product. It is then directly used as a biofuel or further processed into other chemicals.


There are new trends in biorefining. For example, a series of non-conventional biomass starting materials, ranging from waste kitchen oils to crustacean shells, have been considered. In the design of new processes for biomass valorization, increasingly more attention is being paid to harnessing the structural uniqueness of certain types of biomass. That is, to preserve some of the functional groups and/or structural motifs that originally exist in biomass and transfer them into the product. This minimizes the required steps for transformation, enables the direct production of value-added products from biomass, and acts in accordance with the principles of green chemistry.


Though one major limitation of the current biomass refinery is that it is not as economically competitive as the petroleum refinery, further technological developments along with the implementation of improved biomass refinery schemes, focused on the direct generation of value-added chemicals, may address the problem.

Several examples below illustrate some new advances in biorefining:


Waste Shell Biorefinery

Despite their sheer abundance, resources from oceans are generally underutilized. Among these is chitin, a major component of crustacean waste, such as shrimp, crab and lobster shells. It is also the major component in the exoskeleton of insects and the cell walls of fungi. Its structure resembles cellulose, but it has an additional amino group instead of one of the sugar hydroxyl groups. In nature, this amino group is commonly derivatized by an acetyl group that can be easily cleaved to yield chitosan. It is estimated that some million tons of those shells are dumped into landfills and back into the ocean every year. Besides chitin, the shells contain calcium carbonate and proteins, both of which are useful chemicals.


Processes for the conversion of chitin and chitosan into materials for a range of medical and environmental applications exist, but little work was done previously to demonstrate at industrial scale how to convert chitin into valuable chemicals. In 2014, the first study on the production of a N-containing furan-derivative from chitin was presented. The furan-derivative represents an intermediate in the synthesis of several proximicin derivatives – an important class of antibiotics and anticancer agents.


Following that, a variety of other chemicals, such as derivatives of the monomeric sugar units, acetic acid, pyrrole and pyrazine-derivatives, were obtained from chitin. Most of those compounds are not directly obtainable from fossil fuels, as nitrogen normally is not a significant constituent thereof. Therefore, the Haber-Bosch process – highly redox ineffective and energy-intensive – is required to produce ammonia, which is the most common industrial source of nitrogen. Employing a starting material that contains the crucial element is thus beneficial.


Fuels from Kitchen Grease

Fuels such as gasoline or diesel represent one of the biggest fractions of our daily consumption of chemicals. Although processes for the production of biodiesel exist, they mostly rely on the use of food-grade oils. The high oxygen content of the oil renders it corrosive and thus incompatible with current motors.


Used kitchen oil has been shown to be an excellent source of alkanes with chain lengths in the common fuel range. A recently developed conversion process does not require stoichiometric reagents or solvents, but relies on the use of various nickel salts, where nickel acetate proved to be the best, producing up to 60 percent fuel from common fatty acids. The elimination of reagents and the absence of oxygen in the product may make this process attractive compared to existing biorefinery schemes for biodiesel production.


Aromatic Chemicals from Lignin

Lignocellulosic biomass, the major component of a plant’s dry weight, primarily contains three components: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. The first two are normally utilized in the production of paper or bioethanol. Lignin is the only abundant biopolymer that contains aromatic building blocks, but currently, we are not able to exploit its potential, and for the most part, it is used as a fuel for steam production in the biorefinery.


Compared to most biopolymers, the structure of lignin is very complex, and it contains many aromatic ether bonds that are rather difficult to break. It has been shown that bimetallic metal catalysts containing nickel and other metals, such as ruthenium, palladium, rhodium or gold, work exceptionally well compared to their monometallic counterparts. A common problem is the hydrogenation of the aromatic ring by noble metals, whereas nickel is more selective in the cleavage of ether bonds, but possesses a lower activity. The combination of both can lead to a highly active catalyst that yields aromatic monomers from lignin.  It remains to be seen whether or not the use of such catalysts can be sustainably employed at industrial scale and further development is warranted.



Transformation of biorefinery 2.0 from a concept into reality requires substantial efforts from multiple parties. A series of projects should be launched to enable new chemistry and processes. These projects should be supported jointly by government funding agencies and major chemical producers. Researchers with multidisciplinary backgrounds should work together to solve various scientific and technical challenges using the state-of-the-art advances in green chemistry, catalysis and materials science. Various media should advertise the new progresses to the public to increase general awareness and to get their support for the production of high value, renewable chemicals.






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The 2017 Ciba Award in Green Chemistry was awarded to four outstanding students from the Simmons College, University of California - Berkeley, University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Grosse Pointe North High School. These students have shown significant abilities to incorporate creative green chemistry solutions into their research and education. This year marks the first time a high school student has received the award since the program began in 2010.


Administered by the ACS Green Chemistry Institute®, the Ciba Travel Award enables students with an interest in green chemistry to travel to an ACS scientific conference—giving them important opportunities to expand their education by attending symposia, networking, and presenting their research. This year’s awardees’ highlight the importance of multidisciplinary and systems-centric learning—representing multiple perspectives and experiences from chemistry, biochemistry, chemical education, toxicology and public health. Research topics includes improving green chemistry education, development of an effective green electrochemistry lab, synthesis of safer antimicrobial copolymers, and the use of ligands for to remove metals from aqueous substances.


From a large pool of excellent applications, the panel of judges selected the following winners, (list is pictured from left to right):


Laura Armstrong is a graduate student at the University of California – Berkeley in the science and mathematics education program. Her area of focus is in how a shared understanding of green chemistry’s purpose and practices can help foster adoption of green chemistry into research and educational settings. To this end, Armstrong has built an assessment tool to collect and analyze beliefs around green chemistry and the factors that influence them in order to understand effective outreach strategies for increased green chemistry adoption. She plans to present her research at the 22nd Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, June 18-20, 2018 in Portland, Oregon.


Steven Couture is a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Boston where he is completing a M.S. in chemistry. Couture’s previous experience as a high school chemistry teacher informed his graduate work where he developed a greener electrochemistry lab. After piloting the lab, he conducted a randomized experiment comparing student interest, engagement and ability to apply green chemistry after having taken the greener lab vs. a traditional one and found overwhelming support for the effectiveness of the new lab. Couture is also a leader in the New England Students and Teachers for Sustainability (NESTS). After graduation, he plans to return to teaching high school chemistry and will continue to redesign chemistry labs, integrating green chemistry further into the high school science curriculum. With his award, he will attend the 225th ACS National Meeting & Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana, March 18-20, 2018 to present his research.


Ruby Rose T. Laemmle is an undergraduate student from Simmons College with a double major in in biochemistry and public health. Her research is in the design and application of copolymers that can be cross-linked and coated onto textiles. This research seeks to find a safer way to use quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) as antimicrobials on textiles. QACs are effective but typically run off easily in the wash and where they may be toxic to aquatic life.  Laemmle has been able to immobilize the QAC compounds by copolymerizing them with photoresist monomers and crosslinking them to the fabric surface with UV irradiation. Laemmle will present her research at the 225th ACS National Meeting & Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana, March 18-20, 2018.


Michal Tomasz Ruprecht is a high school student from the Grosse Pointe North High School in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. He participated in advanced organic and green chemistry research at the University of Detroit Mercy where, motivated by the Flint water crisis, he investigated the use of ligands to pull metal ions from aqueous solutions. Ruprecht plans to continue this research through 2018 and, after graduation from high school, expects to continue his studies as an undergraduate student of chemistry and materials science with the goal of pursuing green chemistry-based research in a graduate degree. Ruprecht hopes to present his ligand research at the 226th ACS National Meeting and Exposition in Boston, Massachusetts, August 19-23, 2018.



“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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