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Ideality vs. Reality of Green Chemistry in the Development of Advanced Materials from Renewable Polymers

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Seminar by Robin D. Rogers, Center for Green Manufacturing and Department of Chemistry, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487 (USA)

September 8, UAH Shelby Center - Room 301 (Faculty Lounge)

 6 - 7 pm Social Hour with hors d'oeuvres

7 - 8 pm Seminar Lecture


With the inevitable depletion of petroleum-based resources, there has been an increasing worldwide interest in finding alternative resources, particularly from renewable resources including lignocellulosic biomass. Clean separation of the three major components of this biomass source is an important and challenging ‘Grand Challenge’ for the production of reproducible feedstocks for further chemical processing. Chitin, the second most plentiful biopolymer on earth after cellulose, is the most abundant polymer in the marine environment. Crustacean shells are currently the major source of chitin available for industrial processing and annual synthesis of chitin in freshwater and marine ecosystems is about 600 and 1,600 million tons, respectively. The bioactivity, biocompatibility, and low toxicity of chitin make it suitable for commercial use, and contribute to the diversity of over 300 end-use applications, including water treatment, cosmetics and toiletries, food and beverages, agrochemicals, medical/healthcare, and cell culture. However, chitin is produced from the exoskeletons of marine crustacean shell waste by a chemical- and waste-intensive method that involves acid demineralization, alkali deproteinization, and bleaching. The chitin produced still contains trace amount of mineral and protein and quality assurance for final product formulation is of concern.

Even though current ‘biorefinery’ concepts do emphasize other chemicals besides fuel, it is typically the cellulose and hemicellulose which are utilized in producing paper, fibers, membranes, and other commodity materials and chemicals, while lignin is usually burned for energy. There seems to be relatively little emphasis on using natural biopolymers as polymers rather than feedstock for producing molecular chemical entities. In addition, any new developments must meet much more stringent environmental obligations than previous technologies, an example of where an emphasis on Green Chemistry may deter innovation.

This presentation will discuss how the components of both lignocellulosic and chitin biomass interact with ionic liquids (ILs) and how these interactions can be used to manipulate solution-properties to process and regenerate biopolymers into a desirable form for specialized applications. The differing solubilities of the biopolymer fractions also allow the exploitation of the IL medium to provide a ready separation mechanism. The unique properties of ILs can be used to provide a platform for biomass to chemicals strategies and yield endless possibilities for forming environmentally-friendly new and enhanced functional materials, yet the ‘greenness’ of an IL or IL-based process is currently perceived to be an obstacle to commercial scale manufacturing. This conundrum of motivation to develop green and sustainable processes while facing the realities of any chemical process will be discussed.


-- Bio-Sketch --


Dr. Robin D. Rogers obtained both his B.S. in Chemistry (1978, Summa Cum Laude) and his Ph.D. in Chemistry (1982) at The University of Alabama and currently serves as Distinguished Research Professor, Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry, and Director of the Center for Green Manufacturing at UA. In 2007 he was also Chair of Green Chemistry and Co-Director of QUILL at The Queen’s University of Belfast in Northern Ireland (UK) before returning full time to The University of Alabama in 2009. From 2009-2013, he was Honorary Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute for Process Engineering in Beijing, China.

Rogers holds 16 issued patents and has published over 745 papers on a diverse array of topics. His research interests cover the use of ionic liquids and Green Chemistry for sustainable technology through innovation and include Materials (advanced polymeric and composite materials from biorenewables), Separations (novel strategies for separation and purification of value added products from biomass), Energy (new lubricant technologies and selective separations), and Medicine (elimination of waste while delivering improved pharmaceutical performance).

He has been cited over 29,000 times and has a Hirsch index of 78. In 2006, Rogers was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and in 2009 was selected to the inaugural class of American Chemical Society Fellows. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012. In 2010, he was named a Chinese Academy of Sciences Visiting Senior Scientist for the Institute for Process Engineering, Beijing, China. He was awarded the American Chemical Society Separations Science & Technology award in 2011 and in 2012 he was named an ACS Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Fellow.

Rogers is the Founding Editor-in-Chief of the American Chemical Society journal Crystal Growth & Design. He is also an editorial board member of Separation Science & Technology, Solvent Extraction and Ion Exchange, and Chemistry Letters, as well as a member of the international advisory boards for Green Chemistry, Chemical Communications, and ChemSusChem.

He has had an influential role in the expansion of interest and research in ionic liquid systems, his initial paper on ionic liquid/aqueous partitioning (Chem. Comm. 1998, 1765) effectively kick-started interest in applying ionic liquids to clean separations. In 2005 he was awarded the US Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award (Academic Division) for work related to the use of ionic liquids in sustainable technology. This technology was licensed later that year to BASF. In 2012, he was named recipient of the Paul Walden Award given by the DFG-SPP 1191 Priority Program on Ionic Liquids.

Rogers has co-organized a variety of meetings and symposia on Industrial Applications of Ionic Liquids and he has started a company (525 Solutions) to enhance the commercial viability of new technologies. The breadth of educational, research, editorial, and service endeavors gives Rogers a broad perspective on science and engineering research, development, and technology transfer.

Posted by David Newsome on August 6, 2014 at 9:00 AM