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2023 EPA Green Chemistry Challenge Awards recipients named

Awardees honored for developing greener products and processes

by Nina Notman, special to C&EN
November 9, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 37


Five people stand in descending order on steps. The person in front holds a white award.
Credit: Eric Vance/US EPA
From left: Pat Ward, Paul Anastas, Gregory Constantine, Mahlet Garedew, and Stafford Sheehan of the Air Company, the winner in the specific environmental benefit—climate change category, stand in front of the National Academy of Sciences holding their Green Chemistry Challenge Award.

On Oct. 23, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced the winners of this year’s Green Chemistry Challenge Awards during a ceremony at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. One academic researcher and five companies were recognized for efforts including transforming waste products into useful materials and creating greener industrial processes.

“The Green Chemistry Challenge Awards demonstrate how sustainable alternatives in chemistry are flourishing and improve upon traditional methods,” Albert G. Horvath, American Chemical Society CEO, says in a press release.

“Green chemistry can play a vital role in protecting human health and the environment by increasing efficiency, avoiding hazardous chemicals and preventing waste while improving the competitiveness of American companies,” Jennie Romer, deputy assistant administrator at the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, says in the EPA’s press release.

Richard Laine, a professor of materials science and engineering and macromolecular science and engineering at the University of Michigan, won in the academic category for developing new ways to upcycle agricultural waste, like rice hulls or corn husks, into materials suitable for next-generation energy storage technologies. People burn millions of metric tons of agricultural waste for fuel each year; the burned biomass produces a silica-rich ash. Laine’s latest method for refining this ash involves a reaction that ultimately makes spirosiloxane, which can be used to create lithium-ion-conducting polymers for use in solid-state batteries. He is also working to turn the leftover silica-depleted ash into electrodes for lithium-ion supercapacitors.

The EPA gave the award in the design of greener chemicals category to Clorox for designing EcoClean, a lactic acid–based disinfectant cleaner. Lactic acid is biodegradable and can be produced from renewable sources through fermentation. The company reports that EcoClean killed viruses and bacteria as effectively as traditional disinfectants during testing. The Clorox EcoClean bottles also contain a minimum of 25% postconsumer recycled plastic.

In the greener reaction conditions category, the emission control technology developer Captis Aire was recognized for its chemical adsorption innovation reduces emissions (CAIRE) technology. The company says CAIRE captures over 90% of odorous terpenes produced at wood manufacturing sites that process materials such as wood pellets, plywood, and lumber. These terpenes can be irritants. The captured terpenes are turned into valuable chemicals for use in products such as biofuels, flavors, and fragrances.

The sustainable chemical start-up Solugen won in the greener synthetic pathways category for creating the Bioforge. This manufacturing platform uses enzymatic and catalytic processes to convert plant- derived substances into chemicals that are traditionally made from fossil fuels. The company currently produces several different molecules from corn sugar, including hydrogen peroxide and glucaric acid, the latter of which is used in dishwasher detergents to boost their cleaning power.

The EPA gave the award in the small business category to the biotechnology company Modern Meadow for developing its bio-fast resource efficient enhanced dyeing (Bio-FREED) technology. Bio-FREED uses a mixture of plant-based proteins and biopolymers to eliminate inefficiencies in dyeing processes. The company says its technology uses 95% less water, 75% less energy, and 80% fewer dyes and chemicals than traditional dyeing methods.

In the specific environmental benefit—climate change category, the carbon utilization start-up Air Company was recognized for its Airmade technology. Airmade’s only starting materials are carbon dioxide captured from industrial plants and hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water. It uses a catalytic process to transform these into a mixture of alcohols, alkanes, and water, which are separated by distillation. The only by-product is oxygen. Airmade products on the market so far include sustainable aviation fuel, ethanol, and methanol. The company says the carbon dioxide emissions of the full life cycle of its sustainable aviation fuel are at least 90% lower than those of traditional jet fuel.

Since its inception in 1996, the EPA Green Chemistry Challenge Awards program has acknowledged companies and academics that have incorporated green chemistry principles into the design, manufacture, and use of chemicals. The EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention sponsors the program in partnership with the ACS Green Chemistry Institute and other members of the chemical community.

The EPA is accepting nominations for the 2024 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. To learn more about next year’s award categories and how to apply, visit Nominations are due Dec. 8.

Nina Notman is a freelance writer based in Salisbury, England.



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