Chemical Society announces EPA awards for environmentally friendly technology

06/29/04

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized five research projects for creative chemistry that show promise for improving the environment. The award winners include scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Jeneil Biosurfactant Company, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Buckman Laboratories and Engelhard Corporation.

Since 1996, the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards have annually honored scientists who develop innovative chemistry to lower pollution. An independent panel of technical experts — convened by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society — judges the awards on behalf of stakeholders from government, industry, academia and the nonprofit sector.

The 2004 awards go to:

Charles A. Eckert, Ph.D., and Charles L. Liotta, Ph.D., Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Ga.) — By varying temperature and pressure, these researchers create “tunable” benign solvents from water and carbon dioxide (CO2), which host chemical reactions more cleanly and efficiently than typical solvents. The research team exploits the chemical properties of several solvents, including supercritical CO2, which is dense and compressible; nearcritical water with operating temperatures between 250-300 degrees Celsius; and CO2-expanded liquids, which can be easily separated. Each solvent offers unique advantages for chemistry-intensive industries, such as pharmaceuticals. Using very hot or nearcritical water, for instance, the researchers have catalyzed reactions without adding the usual base or acid catalysts — and thus avoided the pounds of salt waste normally left over from such reactions.

Jeneil Biosurfactant Company (Saukville, Wis.) — This small business developed a commercial process to cost-effectively produce rhamnolipid biosurfactants, which have applications in agriculture, cleaning and soil remediation. Surfactants reduce the surface tension of water and are found in many consumer and industrial products, including soaps, laundry and hard surface cleaners. Most surfactants are petroleum-based and some are harmful to the environment. Rhamnolipid biosurfactants are readily biodegradable, demonstrate low toxicity and are produced in a fermentation process from renewable resources. These naturally occurring biosurfactants have been used to recover hydrocarbons from oil sludge, to facilitate petroleum storage tank cleaning and for a wide variety of bioremediation projects. This biosurfactant was recently approved by the EPA for use as a fungicide for the agricultural industry.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (New York) — This pharmaceutical and health care company developed a better route to paclitaxel, a cancer drug used to treat ovarian and breast cancer. Paclitaxel was first isolated from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. Harvesting the bark meant sacrificing the tree, which provides habitat for the endangered spotted owl. Bristol-Myers Squibb designed a semi-synthetic route to paclitaxel, using a naturally occurring compound found in the European yew's leaves and twigs. Further improvements to the process have led to the synthesis of paclitaxel using Plant Cell Fermentation (PCF) technology. This new process using plant cell cultures saves energy, improves worker safety and eliminates tons of waste.

Buckman Laboratories International, Inc. (Memphis, Tenn.) — Recycling can be a sticky business when lingering adhesives on envelopes, magazine binding and other materials gum up the machines used by paper mills to turn recycled waste into new products. When built-up adhesives slow down paper machines, mill operators typically apply toxic solvents to the sticky gunk. But Buckman Laboratories found a novel enzyme to do the job more safely. The company's product, Optimyze™, contains an esterase-type enzyme that helps hydrolyze a major adhesive ingredient — polyvinyl acetate — and transform it into a more benign polyvinyl alcohol. Engineered by bacteria, a renewable resource, the enzyme represents a safe, biodegradable alternative to hazardous industrial solvents.

Engelhard Corporation (Iselin, N.J.) — This company has crafted a colorful niche: developing a line of environmentally friendly pigments. Unlike traditional pigments, Rightfit™ pigments lack heavy metals. Instead, scientists adapt and improve classic azo chemistry by conducting chemical reactions, often using calcium and strontium, in water-based solutions that work without using volatile organic compounds. The resulting pigments are durably vibrant and heat-stable — able to withstand temperatures over 260 degrees Celsius. Rightfit™ pigments are used to add color to mustard and ketchup bottles, coffee containers, motor oil and antifreeze cartons, and many other products.

Since 1996, the 46 Green Chemistry Award winners have contributed to the environment by eliminating 387 million pounds and 9.1 million gallons of hazardous substances, saving 440 million gallons of water, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 170 million pounds.

The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards Ceremony is part of the annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, held this year June 28-30 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. More information is available at http://chemistry.org/meetings/greenchem2004.html.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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