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Environment

Meeting Briefs

Below is a sampling of presentations made during the 10th Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, held June 26-30 in Washington, D.C.

July 24, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 30

Steady-delivery fertilizer boosts nitrogen uptake

More than 80 million metric tons of nitrogen fertilizers is applied to cropland worldwide each year. One long-standing concern has been that excess nitrogen, in the form of ammonium and nitrate ions, is released from fertilizers into the air and into streams and groundwater with a negative environmental impact. To address this problem, researchers at Georgia-Pacific have developed Nitamin brand fertilizers, a blend of urea, short urea-formaldehyde polymers, and cyclic urea compounds (two components shown) that are broken down by soil microbes at different rates. Nitamin products release nitrogen for 60-90 days to match the growth patterns of many food crops, which allows for more efficient use of fertilizers, explained Georgia-Pacific research agronomist John S. Kruse. Polymer-based slow-release fertilizers have been previously established for ornamental plants and turfgrass, but a product for food crops had not been developed until now, Kruse said. Data from field trials on a variety of vegetable crops show that Nitamin fertilizers increase yield and profit per acre at lower application rates than conventional fertilizers and reduce nitrogen leaching.

Roundtable sets synthesis goals for drug industry

The Green Chemistry Institute has joined major pharmaceutical companies in establishing the Pharmaceutical Roundtable, a working group with a mission to help identify and overcome common drug discovery and process chemistry challenges and advance green chemistry and engineering practices in the global pharmaceutical industry. Peter J. Dunn of Pfizer presented the roundtable's initial progress, which includes identifying 14 commonly used reactions and processes that need cost and environmental improvements, as well as a wish list of 15 "aspirational" reactions. Key reactions slated for improvement include amide syntheses as well as activation of hydroxyl substituents for nucleophilic substitutions. One of the wish-list items is the C-H activation of aromatics for cross-coupling reactions that avoid halogenated reagents. Two other process priorities are the development of solventless reactor cleaning and alternatives to dipolar aprotic solvents. Next up for the roundtable is to procure external funding and to help catalyze global industry collaboration.

Taking green chemistry public

The chemistry department at the University of Nottingham, in England, has created the U.K.'s first "public awareness scientist" post, a full-time chemistry postdoc position dedicated to science outreach for school-children. Samantha Tang, the first person to hold the position, is an active researcher, but her principal responsibility is to communicate the department's green chemistry and engineering research to the general public. One project Tang described is an interactive slideshow and hands-on experiment to deliver the "wow factor" of science to fourth- and fifth-grade students. A "research twin" project pairs a graduate student with an eighth-grade class for monthly meetings to share the ups and downs of chemical research. Another project is a forum where teenagers listen to chemistry professors describe their research and then have a chance to grill the speaker. University staff who normally wouldn't engage in outreach are benefiting from communicating science to the public, Tang said, while younger generations are gaining a "more balanced view of what science can and is doing for them."

Database to help clean up cleaning products

An online database called CleanGredients is being created to help cleaning-product manufacturers design environmentally friendlier general-purpose cleansers, carpet cleaners, laundry detergents, and other products (www.cleangredients.org). The database, which requires an annual membership fee, is being produced by the nonprofit GreenBlue Institute, Charlottesville, Va., in conjunction with EPA's Design for the Environment program and other partners. An overview of CleanGredients was presented by Tarek Rached, a University of Virginia graduate student and intern at GreenBlue who worked on the database for his master's degree. Makers and suppliers of cleaning-product ingredients can enter environmental hazard and fate data; material safety data sheets; and technical data sheets for their surfactants, solvents, and other products into the database. These data are often difficult for product formulators to obtain in a useful format, Rached said. Formulators can search the database to identify candidate ingredients for their products and obtain supplier information. The database module for surfactants was launched last month, while a module on solvents will be available later this year.

γ-Valerolactone as a 'sustainable liquid'

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Evolving technology, spurred on by rising petroleum costs, has made several biomass-derived compounds economically viable candidates for transportation fuel or chemical building blocks. One of these compounds is γ-valerolactone (shown), which is being championed by István T. Horváth of Eötvös University, in Hungary, as an "ideal sustainable liquid" that could meet both energy and chemical needs in a single molecule. Horváth's group synthesizes γ-valerolactone by first dehydrating sucrose to form levulinic acid and formic acid. The formic acid is converted to CO2 and H2, and the H2 is used with a ruthenium catalyst to hydrogenate the levulinic acid to form γ-valerolactone. γ-Valerolactone has all the attributes one could ask for in a feedstock chemical, Horváth said. It has a high boiling point (207 oC), low melting point (-31 oC), high flash point (96 oC), and low toxicity. It also has a high research octane number (120) for fuel use and is amenable to conversion to many organic compounds, he noted.

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