2011 Green Chemistry Awards

By Stephen K. Ritter of Chemical & Engineering News

Eliminating 199 million lb of hazardous chemicals and solvents, saving more than 21 billion gal of water, and avoiding 57 million lb of carbon dioxide emissions: Those are a few of the annual benefits derived from the technologies implemented by the past 82 winners of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. Now, five new winners of the presidential award and two of an affiliated student award were crowned during a ceremony held on June 20 in Washington, D.C.

Decorative sculptures and prestige are the rewards garnered by Green Chemistry Award winners. Image source: Steve Ritter/C&EN

The competitive awards program, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency and sponsored in part by the American Chemical Society, provides national recognition for incorporating the principles of green chemistry and green engineering into the design, manufacture, and use of chemical products and processes to help achieve federal pollution-prevention goals. This year’s winners, selected by a panel convened by ACS’s Green Chemistry Institute, described their technologies during lectures at the concurrent 15th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference.

Speaking during the ceremony, EPA Assistant Administrator Paul T. Anastas, one of the codevelopers of green chemistry, commented that establishing these awards at the presidential level 16 years ago was a signal that green chemistry is important.

“Beyond simply giving credit for accomplishments where it is due, these awards serve as a model to companies and to scientists of what’s possible,” Anastas said.

“The art of communicating that meeting environmental and economic goals simultaneously for societal benefit is possible is an essential role that you play,” he told the award winners. “This innovation is our pathway to sustainability.”

Among the 2011 award winners is organic chemist Bruce H. Lipshutz of the University of California, Santa Barbara, who received the Academic Award for creating a low-cost designer surfactant that allows most common transition-metal-catalyzed organic reactions to be carried out in water at room temperature.

Industrial biotechnology firm BioAmber, headquartered in Minneapolis, garnered the Small-Business Award for developing a biosynthetic route to succinic acid at lower cost than existing petroleum-based routes.

Paints and coatings specialist Sherwin-Williams Co. won the Designing Greener Chemicals award for creating a family of water-based alkyd paints using soybean oil and recycled polyethylene terephthalate as raw materials, which significantly reduces volatile organic compound emissions.

Industrial biotechnology company Genomatica, based in San Diego, took home the Greener Synthetic Pathways Award for inventing a low-cost microbial fermentation route to make the commodity chemical 1,4-butanediol from renewable carbohydrate feedstocks.

Houston-based Kraton Performance Polymers landed the award for Greener Reaction Conditions for developing a family of halogen-free, high-flow, polymer membranes for more energy efficient water-purification applications.

In congratulating the winners, ACS President Nancy B. Jackson said the awards, coupled with 2011’s designation as The International Year of Chemistry, gives chemists a unique opportunity to convey several imperative messages to society.

“These events allow us to raise awareness of chemistry and show the world how important our field of study is to the future of humankind,” Jackson said. “They also facilitate our efforts in attracting younger people to become chemists.

“Finally, they allow us to show the general public how important chemistry is in solving global problems,” Jackson continued. “Steadily, we are inching forward toward a sustainable society because of this impressive research.”

The 2011 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 Swapnil R. Jadhav, a graduate student in associate chemistry professor George John’s group at the City College of New York, and Huan Cong, a graduate student in chemistry professor John A. Porco Jr.’s group at Boston University.

Each award includes $1,000 and a certificate. The awards are named in honor of Hancock, an early leader in the field 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 Jadhav and Cong.

Jadhav was lauded for his discovery that sugars such as mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol, when enzymatically coupled to fatty acid chains, form molecules that can serve as amphiphiles to make molecular gels, a kind of functional soft material with a diverse range of applications (C&EN, July 26, 2010, page 8). Jadhav’s research demonstrates that these nontoxic, biobased molecular gels are efficient for oil-spill recovery, controlled-release biopesticides, and more, Jacobs said.

Cong was singled out for his research using silica-supported silver nanoparticles as a green catalyst. Not only is this catalyst easy to use and manufacture, Jacobs said. It also has high activity and a relatively low level of toxicity, all while being inexpensive. Cong discovered that the catalyst can be used in efficient Diels-Alder cycloadditions to synthesize the core structure shared by more than 50 biologically active natural products, many of which show promising anticancer, anti-HIV, and anti-inflammatory activity (C&EN, May 17, 2010, page 29).

Article originally appeared at Chemical & Engineering News