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2023 Green Chemistry Challenge Award Winners: Pioneering Innovation and Sustainability

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Explore the groundbreaking achievements of the 2023 Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners, celebrating their innovative solutions and sustainable practices in the chemical industry.


The Green Chemistry Challenge Award, a prestigious recognition presented annually, celebrates innovative advancements in green chemistry. It acknowledges outstanding achievements in the incorporation of green chemistry principles into chemical design, manufacturing, and usage, emphasizing the importance of environmentally friendly practices within the chemical industry.

Open to industry professionals and organizations, this award is a joint initiative by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and the American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute (ACS GCI). The ceremony and reception took place on October 23 in the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington DC. Members of the U.S. armed forces presented colors and sang the National Anthem. The program continued with remarks from senior leaders Al Horvath (ACS), Kei Koizumi (White House Office of Science and Technology Policy), David Berkowitz (NSF), and Jennie Romer (EPA). EPA’s David Widawsky presented the awards.

Six innovative organizations were awarded Green Chemistry Challenge Awards in 2023. We’re excited to share their stories below.

The deadline for submissions for the 2024 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards is December 8, 2023. Learn more here.

University of Michigan: Upcycling/Valorizing a Plentiful Agricultural Waste

Academic Category Winner


Every year, vast amounts of agricultural waste are incinerated for their fuel value. Rice hulls burnt for fuel become a material called rice hull ash (RHA), which is often discarded in landfills. Professor Richard Laine and his team at the University of Michigan have developed innovative methods to refine RHA. By washing it with hydrochloric acid and reacting it with hexylene glycol, they produce spirosiloxane, a precursor for lithium-ion conducting polymers.

Silicon-depleted RHA serves as a promising material for lithium-ion capacitors and battery anodes, significantly outperforming current graphite/Li anodes. These processes drastically reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions compared to traditional methods (involving the reduction of quartz with anthracite coal), marking a significant step towards sustainable industrial practices.

“Research should target the resolution of a hard problem that has received a lot of attention but with little progress,” says Professor Laine. “If one spends time thinking and reading, incremental progress sometimes results. With enough time and thought (sometimes subconsciously), one can realize a ‘Eureka moment.’ We have been at this for 20+ years, and finally, such a moment arrived. The problem solved was first explored almost 100 years ago, so solving it and being recognized for it is incredibly rewarding. But the ‘moment’ was priceless.”

To learn more about Professor Laine's pioneering research, visit the University of Michigan's research page.

Solugen: Decarbonizing the Physical World

Greener Synthetic Pathways Winner


In the quest for cleaner chemical solutions, Solugen has introduced Bioforge™, a revolutionary cell-free chemienzymatic manufacturing process that addresses the inefficiencies of traditional bio-based chemical production. By decoupling enzyme production from reactions, Bioforge™ maximizes productivity, operating efficiently across various temperatures and pH levels. Utilizing gold nanoparticle catalysis, Solugen achieves over 90 percent carbon yield and selectivity, representing a substantial leap in sustainable chemical manufacturing.

Additionally, the company has adopted eco-friendly practices, replacing natural gas-powered steam evaporators with wind energy-driven mechanical vapor recompression technology. This innovative approach, applied to various chemicals, ensures higher yields, reduces CO2 emissions, and eliminates wastewater. Solugen's Bioforge™ marks a transformative step towards environmentally conscious chemical production.

Learn more about Solugen's groundbreaking work.

Read more about Bioforge™ in this presentation wrapup from Sean Hunt, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Solugen.

Captis Aire: Chemical Adsorption Innovation Reduces Emissions (“CAIRE”) Technology

Greener Reaction Conditions Winner


Captis Aire's innovative CAIRE™ Technology transforms wood manufacturing processes by capturing over 90% of hazardous terpenes released into the air, a common issue in disadvantaged communities. This breakthrough involves terpene adsorption, desorption, condensation, and reactivation, converting these terpenes into valuable resources like biofuels and fragrances.

Using specialized reusable adsorbents, terpenes are captured, desorbed as vapors, condensed into liquid form, and then reactivated for maximum efficiency. Successfully demonstrated in commercial wood product facilities, CAIRE™ not only cleans the air by removing irritants but also mitigates greenhouse gas emissions, offering a sustainable solution for transforming pine chemical wastes into purified terpenes.

“We’re very proud of the EPA Green Chemistry Award and its recognition of the value of the Chemical Adsorption Innovation that Reduces Emissions, the CAIRE™ Technology,” says Captis Aire Founder and CEO Kim Tutin. “This innovation captures carbon from the air and provides key raw materials for biofuels, flavors, fragrances, and more. It is both economically and environmentally advantageous.”

Learn more about this groundbreaking technology and its positive environmental impact.

The Clorox Company: Clorox EcoClean™ Disinfecting Cleaner

Design of Greener Chemicals Winner


Clorox EcoClean™ Disinfecting Cleaner by The Clorox Company is a certified EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) product, highlighting its efficacy and eco-friendly design. Utilizing lactic acid, a potent organic acid, this disinfectant kills bacteria and viruses by denaturing proteins and disrupting bacterial cell metabolism.

Unlike traditional lactic acid-based disinfectants, Clorox EcoClean™'s patented formula employs minimal lactic acid combined with innovative surfactants, ensuring exceptional cleaning and antimicrobial efficacy against challenging viruses like Norovirus and Coxsackievirus. Impressively, it uses 5× to 18× less active ingredient than comparable DfE-certified disinfectants, making it a highly efficient and environmentally responsible choice for health-conscious consumers and facilities.

"We all share a responsibility to help prevent pollution by advancing green innovation and the design of eco-friendly chemicals and materials," says Michelle Claudnic, Senior Director, Research and Development for Clorox Professional. "We are honored to be awarded the EPA Green Chemistry Challenge Award as we continue delivering on our commitment to environmental sustainability and responsible business practices. Clorox Professional is proud to offer a new choice for cleaning professionals seeking eco-conscious cleaners and disinfectants to keep facilities clean and healthy."

Learn more about this cutting-edge product.

Modern Meadow: Modern Meadow Bio-FREED™ Powered by Bio-Alloy™

Small Business Award Winner


Modern Meadow's Bio-FREED™, powered by Bio-Alloy™, revolutionizes textile dyeing with its eco-conscious, one-step process. Using plant-based proteins and biopolymers, Bio-FREED™ conserves 95% of water, reduces dyes and chemicals by 80%, and cuts energy usage by 67% compared to traditional methods. It adapts to all fiber types, allowing pre- and post-production application for versatile design.

Eliminating the need for fixation steps and reducing washes to one or none, it saves resources and minimizes environmental impact. Moreover, Bio-FREED™ preserves fiber properties, fostering textile circularity by enabling fiber reuse without degradation. A game-changer in the industry, it offers a sustainable and efficient alternative to conventional dyeing techniques.

“All of us at Modern Meadow are very honored by this award,” says Dave Williamson, Chief Technology Officer at Modern Meadow. “I would like to thank the EPA for considering our contributions to green chemistry and making textiles more sustainable. I want to thank our dedicated team of scientists and engineers for inventing, developing, and scaling methods for greener and cheaper textile dyeing processes. I also want to thank our formulation, field development, commercial, operations, and corporate development teams for paving the way to pilot our technology at one of the highly respected and regarded textile mills, Limonta, where they will have a great impact due to their potential to reduce the need for water, energy, and chemicals.”

Delve deeper into this innovative technology and its environmental benefits.

AIR COMPANY: AIRMADE™ Carbon Technology

Specific Environmental Benefit—Climate Change Winner


AIR COMPANY has been recognized for its innovative carbon dioxide removal technology, which mimics the process of photosynthesis by transforming CO2 into larger organic chemicals while producing oxygen as the only byproduct. This technology not only removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but also reduces the dependency on fossil fuels by utilizing the captured CO2 to produce various products, including sustainable aviation fuels and alcohols.

The process involves using captured CO2, water, and renewable electricity from sources like solar photovoltaics and wind turbines. Through electrolysis, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen is combined with CO2 using specific catalysts to create alcohols and paraffins. According to a life cycle analysis, this method has net-negative carbon emissions, removing approximately 1.5 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere per kg of ethanol produced. Furthermore, the technology significantly reduces water usage compared to traditional methods, utilizing only 1.1% as much water as corn-based ethanol. The resulting AIRMADE™ sustainable aviation fuel has over 90% lower CO2 emissions than traditional jet fuel, making it a crucial step toward achieving climate change mitigation goals.

“What we are doing at AIR COMPANY is mimicking nature and using CO2, a primary contributor to climate change, to make useful everyday materials,” says Mahlet Garedew, PhD, Innovation Program Manager at AIR COMPANY. “In doing so, we are not only contributing to solving one of the most critical challenges humanity faces but also demonstrating the beauty of what putting the principles of green chemistry into practice in real-world applications looks like. Winning EPA's Green Chemistry Challenge Award is a testament to AIR COMPANY’s unwavering commitment to environmentally conscious production for consumer and industrial sectors. We’re actively working to significantly reduce carbon emissions by offering our customers greener products without compromising on quality. It is a great honor for us to be recognized among the five other teams and join an elite cohort of past winners who have collectively made a significant impact.”

Learn more about Air Company.


Photo credits: USEPA photo by Eric Vance