By Dr. David C. Constable, Director, ACS GCI
It has been a busy but exciting month from a sustainable and green chemistry perspective. I had the opportunity to attend Informex and it was interesting to see the interest in green chemistry expressed by some of the attendees. I was intrigued by the Michigan State Bioeconomy Institute’s booth with its prominent display of green chemistry and its pride in being the place where Pfizer developed the process for Lipitor. I’ve said for many years now that chemists and engineers working in green chemistry and engineering needed state-of-the-art scale-up facilities where new chemistries and chemical processes could be tested and the Michigan State facility answers that need perfectly. I am of the mind that a huge disconnect remains between chemistries developed in most academic labs and those that are run at scale in industry; most academic protocols touted as green would never, ever be able to be scaled up. Wrong reagents, expensive catalysts, unsafe and environmentally problematic solvents, and on it goes. It’s not that easy off-the-shelf greener or more sustainable alternatives aren’t available. I don’t understand why they aren’t being used, but this is a topic for another day.
I also had the opportunity to meet Adam Malofsky of Bioformix for the first time. Bioformix is a company that has identified a renewably-derived platform molecule around which it can build a variety of products. The beauty of this platform molecule and its derivatives is that they can be synthesized using existing manufacturing infrastructure, the processes using these chemicals can be dropped into existing manufacturing lines, and the products in development outperform current product capabilities. This has all the appearances of being the kind of success story that we like to see in sustainable and green chemistry. I know that large companies like DuPont, BASF and Dow are doing this all the time, but it is harder for entrepreneurs and small companies to do this, so it’s exciting to see an example in that category. I’ll be following Bioformix and learning more about the company and its products, so stay tuned.
Last week I was pleased to be a part of a panel discussion at the Chemical Manufacturer’s and Economic Group in New York City along with Kef Kasdin, CEO of Proterro and Zack Schildhorn , VP & Director of Operations at Lux Capital. Proterro is a very interesting company using genetically modified cyano bacteria to produce sugar for the fuels market. The interesting thing about this is Proterro’s business model to pursue waste CO2 as feedstock and its use of solid-state fermentation. Solid-state fermentations are notoriously difficult to commercialize, but are used extensively in the food industry in Japan, so I think it’s only a matter of time until Proterro solves its scale-up issues. The huge hurdles for Proterro in scaling up their technology represent a general research need for synthetic biology, but the potential rewards in succeeding will be enormous.
I always find the venture capitalist viewpoint in sustainable and green chemistry to be interesting and Zack did not disappoint. Identifying potential “winners” in sustainable and green chemistry and engineering is not an easy task but the good news is that there are still investors who are willing to fund new ventures if the right business case can be made.
It’s obvious that a lot of progress is being made. While we might wish that progress would be faster, I remain optimistic that many of you are moving forward and succeeding in sustainable and green chemistry. Once again, it’s exciting to see. As always, let me know what you think.
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