Converting chicken feathers into shoe leather. Using vegetable oil to cool high-voltage transformers hanging on utility poles. An environmentally friendlier method to synthesize DNA. These are just a sampling of new technologies developed by scientists and engineers who are being honored with this year’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. The five winners received their awards during a ceremony on Dec. 11 in Rachel Carson Great Hall—also known as the “green room”—at the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“It’s hard not to be in awe of these accomplishments,” comments chemistry professor Bruce H. Lipshutz of the University of California, Santa Barbara, a 2011 award recipient. “What is made abundantly clear with each and every year that these awards are bestowed is that going green is a huge win-win scenario. But the world has a long way to go. R&D in this direction, whether in industry or academia, must be desperately expanded.”
Among the 2013 award winners is Richard P. Wool, a chemical and biomolecular engineering professor at the University of Delaware, who received the Academic Award for using computational design strategies to guide the invention of an array of low-toxicity, biobased polymers and other materials. Wool and his colleagues use feedstocks such as vegetable oil, chicken feathers, and flax fiber to make adhesives, plastics, foams, and synthetic leather that go into products as varied as circuit boards, automobiles, roofing materials, and shoes.
Faraday Technology, based in Clayton, Ohio, garnered the Small Business Award for its process to deposit chrome coatings on metals and other materials that avoids using hexavalent chromium, which is carcinogenic. Instead, Faraday uses less toxic trivalent chromium as a plating electrolyte.
Chemical industry giant Dow Chemical landed the Greener Reaction Conditions Award for developing Evoque, a copolymer coating for titanium dioxide pigment particles. The coating helps separate the pigment particles to improve paint properties while reducing the amount of TiO2 needed.
Biobased chemicals firm Cargill received the Designing Greener Chemicals Award for Envirotemp FR3, a vegetable-oil-based dielectric insulating fluid for high-voltage transformers. The oil outperforms and is less flammable and less toxic than the petroleum-based mineral oil that is currently used.
Analytical instrument specialist Life Technologies took home the Greener Synthetic Pathways Award for streamlining the syntheses of nucleotide building blocks used in the polymerase chain reaction to synthesize DNA. The new approach significantly reduces the amount of chemical waste generated for this critical technology, which is used in forensic investigations, infectious disease identification, and food safety testing.
The competitive awards program, now in its 18th year, is administered for the White House by EPA’s Green Chemistry Program and is sponsored in part by the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN. The awards are designed to give national recognition to researchers who excel at incorporating the principles of green chemistry and green engineering into the design, manufacture, and use of chemical products to help achieve federal pollution prevention goals and promote sustainability.
“These awards once again provide a very important validation of the place green chemistry has in the practice of chemistry and chemical engineering,” says David J. C. Constable, director of the ACS Green Chemistry Institute. The winning technologies don’t just represent diverse applications in all areas of chemistry, he says, “these technologies provide multiple environmental and social benefits, and an overwhelming financial case can be made for their implementation.”