What impact has the Greener Solutions course had on the participating companies? Does working with the interdisciplinary teams of students change how the company approaches problems in practice?
i absolutely love the focus on taking waste and making good. Especially where nature has unique tools to do things better. If production can be near where the waste is at then that makes it even more interesting.
The point on existing versus unique chemistry is a consistent question. It feels certainly more valuable and disruptive to focus on unique benefits where nature has the advantage. if nature produces it, then generally it knows how to take it apart. Biology likes to insert polar groups that can be a useful tool in some ingredients like emollients, surfactants, solvents, chelates and polymers. Both needs can be met by Nature and so it gives us a lot of opportunities and design ideas in many different applications
Billy: What's been your favorite part of the Greener Solutions Program? Did you gain any specific skills that will be helpful in industry?
Kaj: What have you liked the most about working with students and BCGC in this program? Did you learn anything new, or encounter unexpected challenges?
Tom and Kaj --
What are the expectations for a company participating in the project, e.g., information, time, etc.? Company reps we work with in the GC3 are often strapped for time.
We'd love to take the model and run with it, making it accessible in different venues. The problem always comes down to time and money.
It's hard to quantify the impact that the course has had on business practice or research and development. However, just the fact that we have green chemistry experts now working in some of these private venues is proof of the value that these companies are seeing in this approach to problem solving and innovation.
For example at Autodesk whom we are working with this fall, the sustainability group there has gotten a lot of very positive support from the C-suite and we now have someone working with their resident chemist on improved resins. This has led to the formation of an interested team of folks who would ordinarily not be working together, and who are now part of a wider company initiative to open source printer technology and seek better standards for the industry.
A half-day might be a bit short for working through the full process of the course as-is, but I could see it being enough time to introduce students to the types of challenges that are out there. I agree, case studies might be a great way top get students exposed to these problems. Projects completed by in this course are available on the BCGC website (http://bcgc.berkeley.edu/greenersolutions).
Hi Kenvan. Great question; thanks for asking it.
I think that one of the great challenges faced by green chemistry is to find solutions that meet published design principles. See, e.g.,: Principles of Green Chemistry and Green Engineering - American Chemical Society.
If one tries to be an honest broker and incorporate as many design principles as possible into the design and development of a new product, one quickly and frequently realizes that it is difficult to balance all the principles and deliver an optimal solution. In the case of cyrene, for example, a recent publication evaluating some of the "newer" and "greener" solvents, found cyrene was problematic from an environmental perspective. You may read more about that here: CHEM21 selection guide of classical- and less classical-solvents - Green Chemistry (RSC Publishing) ...
The case of Cyrene is similar to that of methyl-tetrahydrofuan derived from corn cobs, and also listed as problematic in the RSC publication. The current state of the art of green and sustainable chemistry is that there are always trade-offs and it is difficult, at times, to decide which approach is best. In terms of commercializing these and similar products, manufacturers should be careful to present a balanced picture of these trade-offs to avoid green washing.
Finally, commercializing any new product, whether it is greener or not, is frequently difficult because it is likely to be displacing chemicals and processes that are highly developed and optimized. I personally believe that your focus should be on how the product enhances the chemistry or delivers a function that is better than existing products. The fact that it is greener is truly a great thing, but it should not be seen as the primary means for marketing. Focus on the chemical innovation.
Meg - Did you ever generate potentially valuable IP in the course of a project and want to protect it? If so, how did you manage that? If not, what do you think the issues are here in terms of ownership -- Berkeley? the companies that are partnering?
We ask that the partner companies make at least one key contact person available to check in with the students on approximately a weekly basis. Sometimes they also need to direct us to other folks in the company for more technical guidance.
We rely on the partners to give our students the technical context for the challenge-- what are the constraints and requirements of the product or manufacturing process? What are their criteria for a suitable alternative? They have to provide an initial orientation to the challenge and answer questions along the way, and of course they attend (either virtually or in-person) the final presentation. We've heard from partners that they spend about 10 hrs/month on the collaboration.
In our experience, the companies gain so much from the students' investigation that it's worth their time up front.