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Green chemistry efforts honored

2017 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards hail streamlined syntheses, dye-free printing, and more

by Stephen K. Ritter
June 16, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 25


Dow R&D Manager Brian Einsla displays logos being printed on thermal paper.
Credit: Dow Chemical
Dow R&D manager Brian Einsla prints logos on BPA-free, polymer-coated thermal paper.

The 12 Principles of Green Chemistry are a how-to guide written 20 years ago for chemists and chemical engineers. They provide insight on developing new chemicals and chemical processes and revitalizing existing ones so that they achieve their desired function while being environmentally and economically friendly. It’s a creative challenge to put the 12 principles into action.

UPenn’s Schelter developed a nitroxide ligand (left) to selectively bind rare-earth metals (right) to help recycle them.
A structure of a multidentate benzylamine ligand is shown at left and a neodymium-ligand complex on the right.
UPenn’s Schelter developed a nitroxide ligand (left) to selectively bind rare-earth metals (right) to help recycle them.

Five technologies that have succeeded in meeting that creative challenge are being recognized with 2017 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. Merck, Dow Chemical, Koehler, Amgen, Bachem, UniEnergy Technologies, and University of Pennsylvania chemistry professor Eric J. Schelter were honored for their achievements at a ceremony held on June 12 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

The Environmental Protection Agency established the Green Chemistry Challenge Awards program in 1995 as a competitive effort to promote chemical products and manufacturing processes that help the agency achieve federal goals set by the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990. The program is administered by EPA’s Green Chemistry Program and is supported by partners from industry, government, academia, and other organizations, including the ACS Green Chemistry Institute.

EPA has now presented 114 of the awards to scientists and companies selected from more than 1,700 nominations. The work described in the award nominations must have been carried out or demonstrated in the U.S. in the preceding five years. An independent panel selected by ACS, which publishes C&EN, judges the nominations and selects the award winners.

Among this year’s winners, Merck took home the Greener Synthetic Pathways Award for developing a streamlined synthesis of the antiviral drug letermovir, which is currently in Phase III clinical trials. The new synthesis reduces the process mass intensity for making the drug, a sustainability measure of raw materials used per amount of product made, by 73% compared with the original synthesis.

Dow and papermaker Koehler jointly landed the Designing Greener Chemicals Award for a new technology that uses a polymer coating on paper to create air pockets that collapse during printing to create an image stemming from the altered refractive index of the coating. This physical process replaces chemical dyes and image developers such as bisphenol A in the production of thermal paper used for printing receipts.

Amgen and Bachem teamed up to receive the Greener Reaction Conditions Award for an improved peptide manufacturing technology to make the drug etelcalcetide, a calcium inhibitor to help control activity of the thyroid gland in patients with kidney disease. The new process produces more peptide in less time while drastically cutting solvent and water use.

UniEnergy Technologies garnered the Small Business Award for its design of a vanadium-based redox flow battery for grid-scale energy storage. The new battery has double the energy density of previous flow battery technology even though it’s smaller and uses smaller amounts of chemicals.

Schelter got the nod for the Academic Award for developing a process that uses tailored ligands to separate mixtures of rare-earth metals during the recycling of consumer lighting and electronics. Scientists expect the approach to reduce energy use and the waste generated during recycling of rare-earth metals and help minimize new rare-earth metal mining.

“The Green Chemistry Challenge Awards highlight the importance of sustainable chemistry and its impact across a range of disciplines,” says Princeton University’s Paul J. Chirik, a 2016 award recipient. “Striking features common among many of the winners is that green chemistry often results in an improved product or a cost savings, demonstrating that environmentally responsible science does not have to come with reduced performance or added cost.”


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