Issue Date: June 25, 2012 | Web Date: June 20, 2012
Recognizing Green Chemistry Achievements
More environmentally friendly, less expensive, smarter chemistry—these attributes characterize the products and processes developed by researchers who are honored with the annual Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. This year’s winners received their awards during a ceremony held on June 18, appropriately enough in Rachel Carson Great Hall—also known as the “green room”—at the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The competitive awards program, now in its 17th year, is administered by EPA and sponsored in part by the American Chemical Society. The awards—divided into several categories—give national recognition to researchers who incorporate the principles of green chemistry and green engineering into the design, manufacture, and use of commercial chemical products and processes to help achieve federal pollution-prevention goals and promote sustainability.
Known for her 1962 environmental awareness book “Silent Spring,” Carson was “a pioneering scientific voice who changed the way we see the world,” commented ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, one of the ceremony’s hosts. “We feel the spirit of Rachel Carson as we gather to celebrate green chemistry,” Shakhashiri continued. “Through green chemistry we create new products and processes that provide economic vitality while protecting our environment. This is our chorus in the song begun by Rachel Carson.”
Among the 2012 award winners are Robert M. Waymouth of Stanford University and James L. Hedrick of IBM’s Almaden Research Center. Waymouth and Hedrick received the Academic Award for their collaborative work to develop a family of organocatalysts for efficient metal-free synthesis of biodegradable polyesters and other polymers, which avoids environmentally problematic organotin catalysts.
Sharing the Academic Award is Cornell University’s Geoffrey W. Coates, who was recognized for developing zinc and aluminum catalysts for synthesizing biobased chemicals and biodegradable polymers using carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide as feedstocks. Novomer Inc. is using his discoveries to make bisphenol A-free epoxy liners for food and beverage cans, as well as adhesives and foams.
Elevance Renewable Sciences garnered the Small Business Award for using olefin metathesis catalyst technology to convert natural oils into surfactants, lubricants, and thermoplastics. The approach reduces energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions during processing.
Taking home the Greener Synthetic Pathways Award were Yi Tang of the University of California, Los Angeles, and scientists at Codexis. The collaborative team perfected an acyltransferase enzyme to streamline the manufacture of simvastatin, a leading cholesterol-lowering drug. The enzyme, LovD, converts the fungal natural product lovastatin into simvastatin by modifying an ester side chain, using fewer steps and hazardous chemicals than the conventional synthesis.
Cytec Industries landed the award for Greener Reaction Conditions for creating MAX HT, a silane-functionalized polymer that helps prevent aluminosilicate (sodalite) scale buildup during aluminum production from bauxite ore. Scale reduces the efficiency of heat exchangers, adding to energy costs, and removing the scale brings production to a halt and requires large volumes of sulfuric acid.
Buckman International won the Designing Greener Chemicals Award for its Maximyze brand enzymes used for papermaking. The enzymes increase the number of fibrils that bind cellulose fibers to each other, thereby improving the strength and quality of paper and paperboard products. The technology reduces the energy and wood fiber required and allows incorporation of a higher fraction of recycled paper.
“Green chemistry is particularly powerful at reducing risk at the source, or as we like to say, it’s pollution prevention at the molecular level,” noted James J. Jones, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. “This year’s winners are a testament to the potential and efficacy of this approach,” he continued. “Green chemistry means you don’t have to choose between performance, cost, and the environment.”
The 2012 Kenneth G. Hancock Memorial Student Awards in Green Chemistry, sponsored by the ACS Division of Environmental Chemistry and the National Institute of Standards & Technology, were also presented at the ceremony. This year’s recipients are Sean M. Mercer, a graduate student in Philip G. Jessop’s group at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, and Keary M. Engle, a graduate student at the University of Oxford under the joint supervision of Oxford’s Véronique Gouverneur and Jin-Quan Yu of Scripps Research Institute.
Each student award includes $1,000 and a certificate and is named in honor of Hancock, an early proponent of green chemistry who died unexpectedly in 1993 during his tenure as director of the National Science Foundation’s Chemistry Division. ACS Executive Director and CEO Madeleine Jacobs presented the awards to Mercer and Engle.
Mercer was selected for his research on “switchable water,” an aqueous solvent system containing a diamine that can be reversibly switched between low and high ionic strength states by adding or removing carbon dioxide. Switchable water enables low-cost separations and reaction chemistry. The system is amenable to easy reuse of process water, which minimizes environmental impact.
Engle was selected for his research to show that commercial N-protected amino acid ligands can lower the required C–H activation energy and accelerate palladium(II)-catalyzed C–H functionalization reactions with only water as a by-product. These catalyst systems have potential applications in preparing organic building blocks for pharmaceuticals and other applications.
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